It was around this time last year that I hopped on a plane to Seattle and had the fortune to visit the Good Shepherd P-Patch. More than one person insisted I couldn’t miss it which, once there, I immediately understood why. I was also reminded of a few key ingredients to a well crafted garden.
But first, what’s a P-Patch? Seattle has a diverse and abundant network of community gardens and a large number of them are run by an organization (with a really long name) called the Seattle Department of of Neighborhoods P-Patch Community Gardening Program. The first of the P-Patches was the Picardo Farm. So, to honor of the Picardo Family, subsequent gardens were all called P-Patches for short.
When you visit a P-Patch you’ll find that they’re incredibly organized and more than just a way to “plan, plant, and maintain a piece of open space.” They function as stewards for the greater community, feed the hungry, and build understanding — ultimately invigorating neighborhoods and bringing nature into people’s lives. Plus, they’re beautiful.
Design with Purpose
It’s framework of lines, including the approach, that bring this P-Patch together. A lovely set of paths lead to the garden. Some simply follow along adjacent buildings and others are direct paths into the neighboring community and side streets, however they’re all cohesive. They’re soft but also give structure, and hold the garden like a great big hug.
Within this framework is an orchard, learning garden and a series of plots, each with their own maker, style and theme. Residents wait up to 2 years or more for a turn to tend a plot, as well as share in some of the duties of the greater garden.
Turning the corner into this zone, I was immediately struck by two things: flowers and whimsie.
Form Follows Function
These individual gardens are as playful as they are productive, reflecting their makers as much as their gardening goals. The overall appearance, paths, plantings and outdoor living spaces were beautiful because they’re uniquely diverse – just like you and me or the flowers planted among the beds – and also because they inform as to what to do and where to be.
Each plot is its own thoughtfully designed package, with personality and a sense of home.
Gardens Are For People & Wildlife
In Thomas Church’s book, Gardens Are For People, he presents a series of fabulous designs that invite and invigorate outdoor spaces and gardens. While it’s an older book, it’s timeless and still very much relevant to our time. Most of his design examples are large in scale and scope, but it’s easy to see here in this P-Patch, that a few basic design elements hold the smallest of spaces together, giving it meaning and flow.
A cobbled path leading to a set of chairs; paths that weave through kitchen garden plantings; repurposed and upcycled materials thoughtfully placed, providing a border and defining positive and negative spaces — all lead the visitor, providing a place to be and giving the garden purpose.
It’s the flowers, edible perennial borders and inter-plantings that remind us that our gardens are for wildlife as much as they are for people.
How can you not love the flowers?
(Above: not in focus, but easy to see how dahlias equal happiness.)
Borders of roses with fall rose hips and the more rare, medlar fruit, also provide fodder for both people and animals. They play with the imagination, give birds and other critters food and shelter into winter, and provide structure to the perimeter of the garden.
(Above: the rare medlar fruit.)
Plant with Purpose
When we plant with purpose and grow the things we love, good things come. I’m reminded again, that this is where the magic happens.
Give room for nasturtiums to trail from beds, grow the greens and flowers you love the most, and create spaces to live and play in. These are the things at the heart of a garden.
Design with Love
Let go of what you’re told is perfect and let your heart be your guide. Use what you know to be good design as a framework, like the paths of this garden, and give yourself freedom to grow.
Whimsie is good.
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