And Stir Fry

The Bradner Park neighborhood's view of things has certainly made life complicated.

Its view of things is stunning. You can sit on the high stone steps at the southeast corner of Bradner Park and watch what's happening in downtown Seattle, on the gentian waters of Elliott Bay and in the green and snow white grandeur of the Olympic Mountains beyond. A view to be coveted. That was the problem.

Not that long ago, when the site was mostly asphalt, the Seattle Parks Department owned it, but the city administration wanted to sell it to a developer, who wanted to build houses here to capture that coveted view.

"We said 'Whoa! Wait a minute. You mean we're going to sell a park to a developer?'"

That's Joyce Moty, co-chair of a neighborhood group called Friends of Bradner Park. "We organized a successful 'Save Our Parks' initiative, so if the City's going to sell park land they've got to replace it with the same kind of property in the same part of town."

Joyce can tell you about Bradner Park's history, its ethnic and cultural diversity, and just about everything else concerning this remarkable piece of urban agriculture and community.

P-Patches-plots where individuals and families grow flowers and vegetables-have been a great grassroots success in Seattle for a couple of generations. But the City battled with the local residents over one of the factors that has made this one succeed-the basketball court. Officials granted that basketball courts are good for neighborhoods, but asked why on earth anyone would want one next to a garden. Balls bouncing into the gardens? Kids tromping the squash and tomatoes?

The neighborhood committee members insisted. The basketball court stayed.

"We're talking subtle education here," Joyce says. "P-Patchers come to garden and the kids come along to shoot hoops. This sort of intros kids to plants. If they see where food comes from, at least they'll know it grows out of the ground. Maybe some day they'll get interested in gardening instead of being totally sports-oriented."

A grant allowed the Bradner coalition to put in a fence high enough to block basketballs. Local sculptors, both amateur and professional, have woven

Hoops, Cukes

into it some amazing designs made of pitchforks, garden tools and parts of old farm machinery.

Mixing cukes, hoops and art typifies the Bradner Park story. Not much more than an acre, the park combines vegetable and flower patches, demonstration gardens, art, architectural invention, creative landscaping, and a leftover strip of lawn (neither watered nor fertilized) where little kids romp and couples come to get married.

At the entrances to the park hang artistic symbols of salmon contributed by local artist Buster Simpson. They symbolize the health of the poison-free garden. As Moty puts it, "What we put on our gardens goes into the water environment. If we apply pesticides up here, the fish will be taking them up. It's all connected."

The subject of pesticides rarely arises. In Seattle P-Patches, pesticide-free gardening is a given.

Bradner Park's 61 P-Patches (each one ten feet by 20 feet) rent for $39 a year. They feature raised beds filled with deep, black loam. Most are planted so intensively you have to be nimble to make your way through the beans and broccoli.

Soil-building happens all over the park, especially at two composting centers where gardeners chop the stems, leaves and other detritus of gardening, and turn them into soil using the "hot compost" system of half-green half-dry plant material, stored in a series of bins and turned once a week.

A mysterious layer of deep black mulch covers the ground in several of the plots. It's rotting milfoil, a pesky aquatic weed that plagues local boaters. The City harvests it to keep the lakes navigable and the Parks

Joyce Moty and her determined neighbors passed a citizens initiative to stop the proposed sale of Bradner Park.

Department delivers it to the P-Patches. This near-perfect mulch holds moisture in the soil, deflects the heat of the sun and delivers abundant nitrogen. And plants grow, and grow, and grow

Benches carved from logs include salmon designs to symbolize the interconnectedness of the gardens and the Sound.

Benches carved from logs include salmon designs to symbolize the interconnectedness of the gardens and the Sound.

There's a lot more than plants growing here. The community-building among the neighbors is a gratifying story in itself.

Mien families from Laos have been using the P-Patches from the beginning. "We've learned so much from them," Joyce says of the Mien. "There has been a constant exchange of plants, seeds and ideas across language barriers and cultural differences."

"When they started coming here, I noticed that the women did all the gardening while the men sat in the cars and chatted," Moty recalls. "Now some of the Laotian men have become the lead gardeners in the park."

One of the most popular of the many Friends of Bradner Park workshops is a Southeast Asian cooking demonstration, led by Koui Seng Sachaou, one of the Mien P-Patch gardeners. Neighbors chip in a few dollars to the P-Patch fund in return for learning the secrets of savory stir-fries.

At a small, open-sided pavilion, neighbors celebrate New Year's Eve, throw a whopping Fourth of July potluck, and participate in the September "Week of Giving" harvest celebration. That's when Seattle gardeners bring surplus produce—from home gardens as well as the P-Patches—to be distributed to needy families through Seattle's food banks.

Architecture students have left their own imprint on Bradner Park. University of Washington students built the pavilion, with its unique laminated beam in the shape of a leaf. They designed and built a wooden footbridge arching across the stony streambed that bisects the park. They created three portals, each with an individual design tied to the theme of gardening with nature. Again—symbols of connection and openness.

The great wonder of Bradner Park is that it happened at all. Determined neighbors and visionary City employees transcended disagreements and city hall politics. They transformed a vacant lot to a place of great beauty, function, and diversity in less than five years. After a rocky start, the City came to be a steady supporter. But mostly it's been the work of neighborhood volunteers.

Blocks of Tenino sandstone mark the softly curving outlines of the garden's center pathway. Citizens have inscribed names and garden homilies, in return for contributions to the P-Patch fund. One of the inscriptions speaks for many of the diverse community using this thriving neighborhood park: "To garden is to love."

Each September, P-Patch gardeners bring surplus produce to Bradner Park for distribution to needy families and food banks.

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