In the presence of green: Interbay P-Patch turns 30

"Look at the colors," says Susan Casey with a gasp.

A silvery Russian olive tree glitters in the corner of the garden. Red, orange and magenta dahlias swing in the breeze and green chard leaves, veined in yellow and as big as an elephant's ear, soak up the warm afternoon sun. The scene is dramatic, and this is just the beginning of a walk through the Interbay P-Patch garden.

Saturday, Aug. 21, the Interbay P-Patch, nestled between Queen Anne and Magnolia on 15th Avenue West, celebrates its 30th anniversary. The gala affair, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., features seasoned gardeners available for questions, a leisurely walk through serene greenness and flora in full bloom.

"Rub your hands over this," says Casey, a gardener at the P-Patch since 1985.

She gestures to lavender bushes lining our pathway, and I dangle my fingers in the purple flowers. "It just smells so good!" she exclaims. "Isn't that heavenly?"

It's hard to believe that we are standing 20 feet away from 15th Avenue, a six-lane highway pulsing with a constant stream of cars. As we enjoy the relaxing scent of lavender, commuters race by and evening traffic begins.

"When you are down here, you sort of forget about the noise," says Karen Whitner, co-chair of the Good Neighbor/ Hospitality committee at the gardens. "You are in a different world."

Whitner, a gardener here since 1997 and a Queen Anne resident for more than 35 years, wants to bring people into this "different world." She helps facilitate work parties, fundraisers and weekly potlucks to allow mingling and community interaction.

"We try to provide opportunities for people to get to know each other," she concludes.

Casey picks a sprig of rosemary and hands it to me. "Take this home with you," she says.

It occurs to me that gardens, with their sweet scents and lulling pace, are the perfect place to make new friends. They foster a sense of generosity. At Interbay P-Patch, a one-acre plot of land, this generosity has impact on the entire city. On more than 4,400 square feet, in the midst of our bustling metropolis, community gardeners plant, nurture and produce more than 4,000 pounds - practically a pound per square foot - of fresh organic vegetables a year for local food banks.

"We designed this garden so that we specifically had food-bank garden beds," explains Casey.

Plant a garden - change the world?

"Some gardeners come and garden just to get their hands in the dirt," offers Casey. "Gardening here promotes that feeling of connection in a city that could be impersonal."

Casey, a year-round gardener, grows kale, Asian greens, lettuce, fava beans and corn.

"I am eating out of my garden almost every month of the year," she says. She hands me fresh-picked raspberries as she talks.

"This climate is perfect for year-round growing," she continues. "I would like to see even more gardens around the city because there is a waiting list to get in here. With more and more condos and apartments going up, it is really needed."

More than 140 families garden at Interbay. Securing the current spot wasn't easy. The P-Patch has been in three different locations and currently resides just south of the Interbay Golf Course. A lot has changed in those 30 years.

"The emphasis is now on a lot of compost making," explains Casey. "We are recycling things."

The P-Patch has 30 composting bins and collects grass clippings from local landscapers and leaves from the parks departments.

"Instead of [organic material] going to the landfill, they bring it here we make it into the compost," she says. "We put it in the soil and we complete the cycle."

Plant a garden - change the world.

"Putting your hands in the soil connects me to the earth," says Casey, a 69-year-old retired health care researcher. "It is such magic to see the tiny plant that turns into the huge squash plant. Planting seeds is magic."

Bees buzz about, corn stocks tower above and the scent of rosemary has guided us through this garden tour. Yes, planting seeds is magic.

"We have a potluck every Friday night from June to September. People make things that they have grown from their garden," says Casey, breaking the silence. We pause to admire a Scarlet Runner bean hanging from its vine. The pod is as long as a pencil, and the flowers are ruby red.

"You sit out here and you watch the clouds go over and the sun go down, and you connect with people that you never would have connected with otherwise," finishes Casey. "That is what community gardening is all about."

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