Create a New P-Patch Community Garden

How to Start a P-Patch
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Why not take an unused space in your neighborhood and use it to build community, provide recreation and celebrate natural cycles, increase public open space, reduce stress and crime, educate children, and grow carrots and beets and corn and tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, radishes, potatoes, zinnias, sunflowers, petunias and daisies, roses and pumpkins and zucchini like crazy? Contact the P-Patch Program (206) 684-0264 or E-mail.

Location - The site should be vacant and on a relatively quiet street. If near a busy street, there should be ways to screen the site while still being accessible to the public. Some ideas can be found at: Growing Green: An Inventory of Public Lands Suitable for Community Gardening in Seattle, Washington.

Soil - Take a soil sample! What is the structure? What is the nutrient content? What is the lead content?  Take note of the types of plants growing on the site, those plants can tell you something.

  • Weeds that like acid soil: dandelions, mullein, wild strawberries. Weeds that like compacted soil: chicory, wild mustard, bindweed (also called morning glory).
  • Weeds that like low fertility: daisy, wild carrot, wild radish. 
  • Weeds that like high fertility: red clover, chickweed, lamb's quarters.  Horsetails and other “wetland” plants can indicate a site that's very wet

Size - Ideal overall size of a P-Patch Community Garden is 4000 square feet.Individual plots model P-Patch's should run no less than 15, 100 square foot plots, but a greater number is desirable to assure sufficient volunteer maintenance capacity for the whole garden. In high density areas we will work with your group to find alternative gardening opportunities.  Examples include, alley space or sidewalk gardens, and collective or permaculture gardens.

Terrain - The lot should be reasonably flat. If it slopes, the grade should not be so steep that level beds could not be created, for example by terracing. There should also be access for delivery of materials.

Sun - The site should get sun most of the day. Adjacent property should not be zoned for high rise buildings.  In some high density neighborhoods, where open space is at a premium but interest in community gardening is high, we will work with groups to creatively find alternative gardening opportunities.

Neighbors - Ideally, the site should be observable by nearby residents. The scrutiny of neighbors adds to security. Invite the neighbors to get involved from the start so they feel invested in the garden.

Evaluation by P-Patch Staff - The P-Patch Program will help assess the land.  If the land is publicly owned the program will work with the relevant government agency.  If privately owned the program will try and negotiate a lease of at least 5 years.  If purchase is the only possibility, the program along with the P-Patch Trust (not for profit group that promotes community gardening in Seattle) can work with community groups to apply for sources of money, such as private foundations, or public money available for open space.

Permitting - An early assessment of the the permits that might be needed is essential to understanding the feasibility of the location.   Depending on the location, terrain, water availability, zoning and ownership, different permits may be required.  In particular, check early on to determine if there is any part of the land that is determined by Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) to be an Environmentally Critical Area (ECA). You look up this and other information about the site on SDCI's online GIS.  The P-Patch staff will help you assess the appropriate permitting needed.

Change of Use - When a new P-Patch starts a Change of Use permit may be required. This permit establishes the property's use as a P-Patch community garden. Generally any new P-Patch on private property will need to establish the use. P-Patches on public property may also need to establish a use particularly if P-Patch constitutes the sole use of the property. Existing P-Patches that are undertaking new projects or renovations that will require any construction or grading permits may also require a Change of Use permit. The size of the property, any environmentally critical areas on the site, and complexity of project will determine the expense and length of time needed to obtain the permit. You should factor in additional time and costs when applying for funding. These permits are obtained by application with Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections. All new gardens should first check in with P-Patch staff to find out what is required for your project.

Water Availability- Is there an existing meter? No meter? Possible to use a sub-meter? Need a new meter (meter location marked by Seattle Public Utilities so that cost of new meter can be assessed)?

Even if your desired property does not become a P-Patch, your group can still create its own community garden. There are many individually run gardens in Seattle and the staff of the P-Patch Program can give advice on creating your own.

While you're looking for land, designing, and building the P-Patch you should always being doing outreach. The goal of the P-Patch Program is to build connections between all people through community gardening in an inclusive way. As part of the City of Seattle, the P-Patch Program also works to meet the Race and Social Justice goals to end racial disparities. Through observation and analyzing data, we have seen that some racial groups have been chronically underrepresented in the program. We've come to the conclusion that racial disparities exist because those groups lack equal access to the program. As a result those groups don't benefit as much from being part of the P-Patch. We are taking steps within the program to help end racial disparities because we believe they undermine our goals of building connections between all people through community gardening in an inclusive way.

What you can do?

  • Remember to engage beyond your circle of friends to the larger community. We encourage you to find the abundance within your neighborhood. Do a talent and resource search. It is easy and fun, here's how:
  • Ask the question: Do the people who make up my P-Patch community reflect all the people in my neighborhood? P-Patch staff can help you with Demographic data.
  • Refer to the Plot Assignment Guidelines to learn about program strategic goals and how plots are assigned.
  • Keep track of hours spent on the project
  • People will want to get involved at different times for different reasons so it is important to always be doing outreach throughout the process.

The goal of the P-Patch Program is to build connections between To really build a strong community, it must represent the diverse make up of all members of your community. Inclusion of diversity is the core of community building. Just as organic gardens are stronger and healthier with a diversity of plants and organisms, a diversity of people enriches community.

We have developed a Neighborhood Worksheet for you to use to discover your neighborhood. The Inclusive Outreach and Public Engagement Guide should be used in conjunction with the worksheet. Here is a link to the census data for your area. P-Patch staff can help you with other sources of data to get the best picture to move forward. Working towards equitable participation in the gardens at all levels is a race and social justice goal of the P-Patch Program. It supports the City of Seattle's overall Race and Social Justice Initiative.  Just like plants diversity in people enrich the health of your community garden. 

Outreach methods include:

  • Word of mouth among those initially involved in finding prospective land. Calling people on waiting lists for existing P-Patches. The P-Patch Program will make those names and phone numbers available. Meet with groups already functioning in the neighborhood (community councils, neighborhood clubs, church groups, etc)
  • Advertising in neighborhood newspapers, community council newsletters, bulletin boards, mailings, putting a sign on the lot telling people about the future garden, and flyer the neighborhood.
  • Large groups of volunteers from the broader community can really help get things done. It is often best to get help with large projects, new construction, or large weeding projects. When a community group volunteers, you should offer them drinks, maybe lunch, gloves, plenty of tools, and a first-aid kit. You should always send a thank you note after so make sure to get folks to sign in with their contact information! Some sources for volunteers are the United Way, Seattle Works, school service learning programs, corpora­corporation community service days, garden clubs, faith organizations, girl and boy scout groups, eagles club type groups, community court crews, etc.

Organize Yourselves!  Link the talents you have discovered with the tasks needed to build a community garden.

People are one of the most important elements in any community garden! You will need to develop a way to function as a group.  Typically a kick off meeting or two, with as many people as possible, to insure enough folks can take on responsibility for the tasks. Decide early on how you agree to make group decisions.

Pick Project Leader/s

  • Choose a person who will work with the P-Patch office and other appropriate organizations, as well as coordinate between the various participants and formed groups. He or she will follow up with people if tasks are not getting done on schedule.

Form a Leadership Group

  • The driving force behind the garden development
  • The size of the group depends on the size of the overall garden.
  • The group should be as diverse as your neighborhood. 
  • It is the responsibility of the leadership group to work and communicate with the larger community in an inclusive way throughout the development.
  • The Leadership Group sometimes has to make quick decisions.
  • Decides with community, the appropriate landscape architects.

Begin Outreach

  • Find people who want to work on outreach
  • Continue doing outreach through concept, design, organizing, building and gardening.

Track & Raise Funds and Volunteers

  • Work with the project lead, leadership group, and community to fundraise (write solicitation letters, grants, and requests for supply donations)
  • Keep track of volunteer hours, writes reports, and submits invoices.
  • Work with a fiscal agent (GROW is available to act as a fiscal agent) to develop budgets

Lead Work Parties

  • leads the actual building of the garden, with project lead, leadership group and community
  • Organize volunteers and connect with youth, church groups, community colleges, university design/build classes and other groups who promote community volunteering (Seattle works, United Way and Boeing Good Neighbor Day are some examples).
  • Don’t forget to send thanks!

Secure Tools

  • A person who works with work party leaders, project lead/s and leadership group about the tools necessary for each work party.
  • May need to call the P-Patch office to arrange for use, pickup, and redelivery of tools.

Secure Supplies

  • Work with other organizers to make sure all the supplies necessary are obtained and delivered (irrigation, tool shed, compost bin supplies, etc.)

Organizer of Food for Work Parties and Meetings

  • Individual or group who ensures food and beverages is available at work parties and meetings. Great for someone who may not be able to partake in the more physical side of construction?

Each P-Patch group is required to conduct a design process. A P-Patch staff person is available to coach your group through the process.

Finding a Landscape Architect

  • Each P-Patch group is required to conduct a design process.
  • You may have to secure donations or grants for a landscape architect.
  • You should create a process for hiring a designer.
  • Gardeners will work closely with the P-Patch Program on design.

Community Design Meeting Series

  • The process should include two community design meetings and one final design presentation
  • It is helpful to visit other p-patches to get ideas
  • It is important to have a flexible design that can take many years to implement and be done in phases.
  • Design meetings can help gather pledges of support for the development and can help find community members who have skill needed to complete the garden (i.e. carpentry, web design, plumbing, etc.)
  • Remember Outreach!
  • P-Patch can help with a mass mailing to the neighborhood announcing the meeting and with meeting preparation materials
  • Designs should emphasize simplicity and high quality infrastructure and materials that are readily available for community volunteers to maintain in the future.

You will need to apply for funds if needed. A possible source for both design and development is the Department of Neighborhoods, Neighborhood Matching Fund. The staff of the P-Patch Program can give advice, technical assistance and provide examples of successful applications from other gardens. GROW is available to act as fiscal agent for your fund-raising. Once the community design series is complete, you will need to go through design review and modification with P-Patch staff. Develop cost estimates and a budget to be used in raising funds and planning for physically building the garden.

Required Design and Garden Elements - Design Guidelines

  • Partly "undone" providing space for future projects to emerge organically over time by the gardeners themselves.
  • Plots for community members, including individuals, families, seniors, school, giving gardens, or other groups, to grow safe, culturally appropriate food. Ideal overall size of a P-Patch Community Garden is no less than 4000 square feet. In high density areas of the city, there should be space for at least 20+ people to be involved. You will need to allow for garden beds, shed, common and gathering areas.
  • Inclusive design including raised beds with seating and wheelchair access along the main path to gathering space, to shed from beds, compost bin, and water bib, to the extent reasonable for the site. You should follow the information available in P-Patch TIP sheet P307 "Accessible Gardens"
  • Borders that are inviting while defining the area
  • Tool and supply storage
  • Composting area
  • Open space resources to the surrounding neighborhood and the larger community to visit and enjoy—supported with welcoming elements such as an entrance or passive educational signs, benches, picnic tables, artistic elements, etc.
  • Unique to the community: Culturally and neighborhood appropriate
  • Green spaces combine with art aesthetic
  • Places that provide food and shelter for multiple wildlife
  • Safe
  • Built with reused, recycled, and sustainable materials whenever possible
  • Built with permeable surfaces whenever possible, minimizing hard infrastructure (i.e. cement)
  • Built by both community members and professional contractors, depending on the garden element
  • Welcoming places that foster community cohesion, self-reliance and innovative ideas
  • Education space through hands on experience and passive education
  • Special features as appropriate to the site such as: educational signage/kiosks, communication boards, artistic elements, scarecrows, artistic elements, greenhouses, beehives, communal flower areas, children/youth gardens, native plant areas, and orchards, etc.

Other Considerations

  • Rectilinear design: The garden plot layout should have straight lines with right angles, as much as possible. This aids in dividing up the spaces for garden plots into the consistent base plot size. If the group wants to come up with a non-linear design they should proportion the garden spaces to accommodate the base plot size for the garden
  • Access and Bulk material storage: As a working, changing garden, P-Patch Community Gardens need regular inputs of supplies and need access for on-going maintenance Storage areas should be places adjacent to tool shed or compost bins
  • Screening: Attractive screening makes for happy neighbors, especially around storage and compost areas.
  • Flow of gardening space: Ideally the P-Patch community gardening space is contiguous with well-defined boundaries between the P-Patch and other users, and if part of a multiple use site, such as a P-Patch in a park, design should allow for regular interaction between gardeners.
  • Organic Food Production focus: Habitat and diversity of species (see common areas below for more detail), some areas should be left "blank" or with a broad use by landscape designer to allow for plant selection, purchase and installation by the gardeners once the bones of the garden have been developed.

Once the site has been secured, leadership structure resolved, design adopted, construction sequence and time line reviewed by P-Patch staff, and funding in place, you are ready to begin working on the physical site.  Groups may need to restructure their leadership with construction to take advantage of individual's strengths.  The P-Patch Program runs a city-wide discussion list to help solicit volunteers experienced in building and maintaining gardens.

Here is the recommended way to think about a simple P-Patch project in order of implementation.

  • Clear debris and grade site
  • Water Source Installation (includes installation by Seattle Public Utilities of a new meter) and Irrigation System Connection (includes need use of a trenching machine)
  • Tool Shed, this should be installed first so that you have a place to store tools while you build the garden.
  • Install fencing or other border defining elements
  • Hold a potluck at the garden
  • Bed Construction
  • Compost Bin
  • Common Areas
  • Soil Ecology- Amendments
  • Special Features
  • Grand Opening Celebration
  • Plot Assignment if applicable
  • Hold a Gardener Gathering

How P-Patch Works

Throughout the development period the group should be working to develop a site management team that will take over once the garden is growing.  There are many ways to organize, the P-Patch staff will work with the garden to set up a leadership structure. To help you start thinking about the possibilities we encourage you to refer to the Site Leadership Handbook. You can also learn from other community gardens across the nation, visit the American Community Gardening Association's web site.

P-Patch Program provides the following support

  • Property management, garden development, and administrative support
  • Plot monitoring: staff work with site leadership to monitor plot usage and rule compliance
  • Work with site leadership on issues that arise.
  • Application handling
  • Plot assignment
  • Maintaining interest and wait lists
  • Gardener turnover – removal and replacement
  • Emergencies
  • Facilitate outreach
  • Materials and Educational resources
  • Dispute resolution
  • Develop and maintain interagency and outside organizational liaison
  • Liability Insurance