Anna Mansbridge shows her husband's plot in the Ballard P-Patch at Art in the Garden 2012. (Click on picture for full slideshow)
At Large in Ballard: Live from the Garden
I had never set foot in THE Ballard P-Patch until the 12th Annual Art in the Garden event on August 4th. A friend who had to be out of town asked if I would mind her vendor table of gift cards for an afternoon shift, relieving her sister-in-law. I saw it as an opportunity to write a column “live” from the garden while earning a commission.
I failed on several counts but succeeded in others. As usual I did flitting rather than sitting and outspent any potential gains (in fact I had no gains). Now that I've rinsed off the dry dirt and insufficient sunscreen of a smoldering Saturday I'm ready to tally my pluses. I've spent the day surrounded by dahlias and artists, the sound of live music and the fruits of gardens, while being passed from passionate gardener to passionate gardener like a hot potato. Plus there's the organic peach pie (includes pie plate!), a basket of dried fresh herbs, framed herb print poster and pages of notes.
Just beyond the arbor entrance to the garden the information booth was always staffed by two P-Patch gardeners wearing Ask Me stickers. As I collected official handouts on the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods P-Patch Community Gardening Program Tina Cohen (Ask Me) told me about her history with the 94-plot, 18,000 square foot garden on land owned by Our Redeemer's Lutheran Church, at 25th NW & NW 85th. She bought her home just south of the P-Patch to be close to her plot, rather than the other way around, over 20 years ago.
She pointed me toward another gardener, artist Amy Ockerlander who was creating works for silent auction (Live Art in the Garden!) in timed sessions. Katie Douglas had requested brilliant pink dahlias as the next subject in hopes of bidding on them. She passed me over to her husband Frank Shields, an excavation contractor who has worked on many a P-Patch in Seattle. In turn Frank gave me a tour of their son's sculptures which were feature as this year's Art in the Garden.
I learned through his father that Robert (Bob) Shields is a 20 year-old BHS grad who just completed welding school through Lake Washington Technical Institute. His interest in metal started with knives; by senior year high school Robert was apprenticing one day a week with a knife maker. It was not accepted as a senior project so he had to make and display a forge instead. Since then Bob has been welding metals such as the byproducts of some of his father's work (metal cut-outs) and hand wheels acquired at a shipyard to form metal sculptures. His parents claim these sculptures can simply appear on their Dibble front yard. “Fast gratification,” his father said, compared to forging knives.
The sculpture tour ended at an area recently expanded area to accommodate more accessible raised beds, what Shields calls “enabled gardens” -- troughs on hardscape that are wheelchair accessible for gardeners like his wife Katie Douglas. Tina Cohen found me again to show me the “Growing for Giving” section, where food is raised for local food banks. “It's not all recreating,” she said, perhaps thinking the live music stage, Brat & Beer Court and bake sale were giving me the wrong idea. “We provide really good organic produce to those in needs. As for how many pounds, you'd have to ask Roy.”
With that I visited the table that I was supposed to be watching and chatted with my friend's sister-in-law, who for the record, never did escape. We discussed embracing the heat, my daughter gave me money to visit the bake sale and I borrowed money to secure the winning bid on the pie and pay my debt on the herb poster.
Roy, that would be Roy Bueier, dropped by the table, still wearing his Ask Me button. “So,” I asked, “How many pounds of produce does the garden give to the food bank each year?”
“I don't have the exact amount,” he said. “About 1,000 pounds.” Like everyone that I met in the garden he was happy to give me the back story on his path to the P-Patch. “Forty-five years in Puyallup,” Bueier told me. “Christmas tree farm on three acres. Never lived in the city before. Bought a condo north of Market Street. Love it. Just lock the door and go wherever. Want to see my plot?”
Strung with prayer flags that he brought back from India Bueier bent over and picked some beans and then peas, dropping them on my notebook. “Always eat my way through,” he said. His plot is across from that of his daughter and adjoining a 'grand-fathered' 400 s.f. plot that looks like it could be set down in the middle of the Flower & Garden Show (or vice versa).
“Every Tuesday night a bunch of us plant, weed, harvest and then eat cheese and drink wine. The next day someone drives the harvest to Ballard Food Bank. Seen the herb garden?”
Bueier left me at the herb garden where there was finally a bit of shade. Artists were visiting one another. A little boy ate the frosting off a cupcake and then abandoned the cake. Event organizer Lindy Sheehan had to buy the pink dahlias painted “live” and Katie Douglas had to take home another one. Gardener Shawn Mincer didn't appear to have any P-Patch remorse after purchasing an astounding amount of silent auction items.
As the vendors packed their hand-blown glass and jewelry and the musicians put their instruments in cases the garden began to return to the artichokes and statice, the corn in tassel and beets still below the surface. Not all the art will stay but the garden will be very much “live.”
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