They’re putting the garden beds to bed for the winter at the UpGarden P-Patch on top of the Mercer Street Garage, spreading hay over the cold soil and curled leaves of what was once a warm summer bounty.
The kale will stay hearty, as will the chives. And Barbara Oakrock’s dahlias aren’t going without one last smile at the sun.
But when the beds come back to life next spring, it will be for the last time. The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods notified the UpGarden community two weeks ago that it was being evicted so that the site can return to its original use: parking spaces. This time for the hockey fans who will be descending on KeyArena to cheer on the new NHL team starting in 2021. The garden needs to be gone by next October.
“I keep thinking of that Joni Mitchell song,” said co-head gardener Robert Grubbs, as he walked the P-Patch’s aisles Monday morning. ” ‘Pave paradise, put up a parking lot.’ That’s basically what they’re doing. We got rid of the parking lot and now they want it back.”
In an Oct. 21 letter, Sandy Pernitz of the city’s Community Garden Coordinator Office reminded the UpGarden community that the garage’s owner, Seattle Center, had “loaned” the upper level of the garage to the Department of Neighborhoods for a P-Patch “with the full understanding between the two City departments, and among the original gardeners, that it would be temporary.
“Displaced” gardeners can request to be transferred to another P-Patch, and staff “will honor requests based on the gardener’s original sign-up date and the availability of plots at another site.” They will only be able to get a new plot if there are openings, “and the gardener’s good standing and seniority within the P-Patch program.”
And so, this 25,000 square feet of green, dirt and wood will be broken down and removed so that people can park their cars.
“It really doesn’t feel like a fair trade,” said Stephanie Kimmel, one of the founding members of the UpGarden P-Patch. She attended planning meetings before its 2012 opening, pushing her daughter, Bailley, in a stroller. The girl is now 9, and has grown up among the beds.
“She learned to garden there, she learned to talk there, and she learned a sense of ‘These are my neighbors,’ ” Kimmel said.
Her husband, Craig, helped find, transport and install the vintage Airstream trailer that serves as the P-Patch’s tool shed. Members found it in Kitsap County, bought it for a song, towed it back to Seattle and had it craned onto the rooftop.
Kimmel believes the UpGarden is the only public community garden built on a rooftop in the nation. And in its short time there, it has made an impact.
Member Bonnie Hedman has developed a youth-outreach program that has students from area schools tending a garden, and donating the produce to New Horizons, a nonprofit that works with homeless youth. The kids from the Center School have their own plot, and even come during their summer vacations. There’s a “giving garden,” which members are required to tend for at least eight hours a year. Produce and flowers grown there are donated to local food banks.
Strangers walk in to investigate, saying they spotted the P-Patch from the top of the Space Needle. The Nature Conservancy did a book on humans interacting with nature, and dedicated a few pages to the UpGarden. The Smithsonian Channel included it in a show called “Aerial Seattle.”
Along with the Airstream tool shed, the P-Patch features a car planter — a 1967 Ford Galaxie donated by Valerie Falk, painted a purple haze called “Chrome Illusion” and accented with lyrics from Seattle native Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun.”
There’s a fragrant garden loaded with rosemary, thyme and other plants for visually impaired people to take in; a resident hummingbird and a family of white crown sparrows who nest on the ground. And the P-Patch is the site of a Pokemon Go! gym, where “trainers” playing the online game can battle the Pokemon of rival teams to defend the space.
But the greatest harvest has been the community that has grown here. It is a place where condo dwellers come out of their buildings to celebrate the Summer Solstice; bring visitors for a picnic on one of the grassy plots; or to sit for a spell in one of the plastic Adirondack chairs with their feet planted in the grass.
“The Mercer Street Garage has been slated for redevelopment for years, so we knew at some point that this place would come to an end,” Kimmel said. “But not that this community would come to an end.
“When you’re part of a community, well, that’s the hard part. The people.”
That community is gearing up to fight the eviction with a petition to keep the P-Patch going.
But Seattle Center spokeswoman Deborah Daoust said that was unlikely.
“The decision has been made,” Daoust said, adding that it was always intended that the garden was temporary, something that Seattle Center did as part of the Next 50 celebration, which marked the anniversary of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.
“We have been pleased with the partnership,” Daoust said. “It is such a beautiful space. But we have to think about the primary purpose of the garage for all patrons of Seattle Center.”
There are other open spaces in lower Queen Anne that could host a P-Patch, Daoust said, “and I certainly hope and trust that one of them will be made available to the gardeners.”
Said Grubbs: “I would love to know where those places are because we’re not aware of them and nobody has helped us identify or locate them. It would be lovely if someone would communicate with us about it.
“It’s a huge loss,” he added. “And it’s all about the money.”