The garden at Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney Place (PGK) on Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus is flourishing, and not only due to the warm weather and sunshine. This year, collaborative efforts and community support has empowered a group of PGK residents to really dig in, cultivate and begin reaping the fruits of their labor.
“This is the bed we started with,” PGK resident Adrienne Karls notes, pointing to a booming bed of Swiss chard, kale and lettuce. She walks across the path to another bed, just as lush with healthy growth, and picks off a small lemon cucumber, handing it to me.
As I bite into its sun-warmed skin, Deni Frisella enters the garden. Adrienne introduces him as the “master weed puller,” and before long, he begins doing just that.
The garden wasn’t always this consistently and well-cared for; it is a product of a committed group of residents who decided to revitalize the space after past attempts. The project’s success, according to Deni, is due to Adrienne. “That’s really sweet Deni,” Adrienne says. “Well it’s pretty much the truth,” Deni responds.
The expectations of the garden group in the past weren’t viable, resulting in a decline in participation. At the end of last summer, Adrienne stepped up and restructured the group expectations so that all PGK residents could participate, despite limitations in abilities and circumstances.
In the beginning, “It was challenging, because some of the plots had really bad soil.” One by one, the beds were cleared of debris and slowly replanted, with the much-appreciated assistance and donations of other gardeners in the community, including Jim Sanderson, a Magnuson Park gardener. “He brought us nearly all of our starting plants and compost to add to our soil,” Adrienne remarks. Other plants are donated by the nearby P-Patches. “That connection with other people who garden is really nice,” Adrienne says.
“I’m still putting my head to work with folks about trying to keep something growing year-round, or continuing to get good soil down.” ~Adrienne Karls
Sabrina Daniels and Lisa Debose, two other regular gardeners, arrive. With most of the group here, everyone gets to work. “Time to get dirty,” Adrienne says and laughs, “That’s my favorite part.”
There is constant learning happening, including my own. Lisa shows me what length of bean is ready to be picked, and Adrienne teaches Sabrina how to harvest the greens. There is also lighthearted humor, as Sabrina pokes fun at Adrienne’s careful and measured cutting of the leaves. Deni picks a large green bell pepper and passes it around for everyone to taste, the first of the season.
More than just a space for community and learning, the garden offers a source fresh produce for PGK residents. Adrienne is grateful for this supply, “even if it’s just a little. Organic vegetables are expensive, and this helps everybody out.”
Two PGK residents who are also significant contributors to the garden, David and Raven, recently got married in the garden. In preparation, herbs and flowers were planted. The flowers are still blooming, making the garden vibrant with color.
This is only the garden’s second season, but the group plans to continue their efforts, as they are evidently paying off. Adrienne describes their plans: “I’m still putting my head to work with folks about trying to keep something growing year-round, or continuing to get good soil down.”
Adrienne introduces me to pineapple sage, and Lisa begins describing how she plans to use it in cooking a roast, alongside sauteed greens in oil and garlic. For many, the garden is an entry point for exploring cooking. “I never used to eat these,” Sabrina remarks, holding up a bag of pole beans. “Now that I know how to make them different ways, I eat them all the time.”
The work for the day is winding down, and Sabrina hands me the bag of poles beans to take home. We take a moment to rest. “There’s a nice breeze that comes through, it’s comfortable out here,” Adrienne says. The garden means a lot to both the individuals who tend to it and to those who are only passing through, stopping to smell the flowers or pick some produce. To Sabrina, “It’s therapy, its peace of mind” – and that is reason enough to get one’s hands a little dirty.