Create a New P-Patch Community Garden

How to Start a P-Patch

Develop unused space in your neighborhood to grow community, provide recreation, and harvest a a bumper crop of benefits including increased public open space, reduced stress, home-grown fruits, vegetables, and flowers. To learn more about establishing a new P-Patch, call (206) 684-0264 or e-mail.

Check out this handy flowchart for more information about the process! 

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.

Terrain - The proposed lot should be reasonably flat. If it slopes, the grade should not be so steep that level beds could not be created through terracing or other means. There should also be access for materials delivery.

Size - The ideal overall size of a P-Patch Community Garden is 4000 square feet. There should be no space for no fewer than fifteen 100 square foot plots;  however, a greater number of plots is desirable to ensure sufficient volunteer maintenance capacity for the whole garden. In high-density areas, we will work with your group to find alternative gardening opportunities.  These may include alley space or sidewalk gardens and collective or permaculture gardens.

Soil - Take a soil sample! Before establishing a garden, it's important to know the soil structure, its nutrient content, and its lead content. Take note of the types of plants growing on the site, too! Those plants provide insight into the condition of the soil.

  • 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

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 find creative 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 suitability of the land; and: 

  • If the land is publicly owned: the program will work with the relevant government agency to help secure it. 
  • If privately owned: the program will try to negotiate at least a 5-year lease. 
  • If purchase is the only possibility: the program, along with the P-Patch Trust (a not-for-profit group that promotes community gardening in Seattle) can work with community groups to apply for sources of funding.

Permitting - An early assessment of 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. 

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 can look this and other information up on SDCI's online GIS.  The P-Patch staff will help you figure out what permits may be needed.

Change of Use - When a new P-Patch is established, 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 this permit. P-Patches on public property may also need require a Change of Use permit - particularly if the P-Patch constitutes the sole use of the property. The size of the property, any environmentally critical areas on the site, and the complexity of project will determine the expense and the 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 to the 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 - When considering a site for a new garden, determine whether there is an existing water meter or not. If there is a water meter present, you may need to explore the possibility of using a submeter. If there is not a meter, you will need to work with Seattle Public Utilities to have a meter location marked in order to assess the cost of a new meter. 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.

Equally important to the success of your proposed new garden is outreach. While you are working on the logistical details, it is essential that you get other people involved.

The goal of the P-Patch Program is to build connections between people through inclusive community gardening. As part of the City of Seattle, the P-Patch Program works to meet the Race and Social Justice Initiative goals to end racial disparities. Through observation and data analysis, we know that some racial groups have been chronically underrepresented in the program. We have concluded that these racial disparities exist as a result of a lack of equal access to the program. Consequently, these groups don't benefit as much from the P-Patch Program. There is no question that these racial disparities undermine our goal of building connections between people through inclusive community gardening and we are actively working to counter this.

Steps You Can Take

To build a really strong P-Patch Community Garden, it must represent the diversity of your entire community. At the core of community building are inclusivity and diversity. Just as organic gardens are stronger and healthier with diverse plants, so too are communities enriched with diverse people. To help your outreach efforts, we have developed a Neighborhood Worksheet for you to use to discover your neighborhood. You should use the Inclusive Outreach and Public Engagement Guide in conjunction with the worksheet. To help you understand your community better, the Seattle Department of Planning and Community Development's Neighborhood Portal makes it easy to find out more about the demographics of your community. Simply find your census tract or community reporting area and click on it for the details.

  1. Reach beyond your circle of friends to the larger community. We encourage you to find the abundance within your neighborhood and do a talent and resource search. It is easy and fun - learn more here
  2. 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. 
  3. Refer to the Plot Assignment Guidelines to learn about program strategic goals and how plots are assigned. 
  4. Keep track of hours spent on the project
  5. Since people will want to get involved at different times for different reasons, it is important that you are doing outreach continually. 

P-Patch staff can help you with other data to get the best picture of your community. Working towards inclusive, equitable participation in the gardens at all levels is not just a goal of the program, but the right thing to do.

Types of Outreach

Have the people initially involved in locating the prospective site tell others about the garden.

Call people on the P-Patch waiting lists! The P-Patch Program will make those names and phone numbers available.

Meet with groups already present in the neighborhood including community groups, neighborhood clubs, and faith groups.

Advertise! Place notices in neighborhood newspapers, community blogs and websites, and public bulletin boards at local libraries, small businesses, and other community hubs. Flyer the neighborhood and send out mailings. Put a sign on the lot announcing the future garden.

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, snacks (or maybe lunch), gloves, plenty of tools, and a first-aid kit. You should always send a thank-you note, so make sure volunteers sign in with their contact information! Some sources for volunteers are the United Way, Seattle Works, school service learning programs, corporate community service days, garden clubs, faith organizations, Girl and Boy Scout Troops, and service organizations like Seattle Works, the Eagles, Elks, and Odd Fellows.

People are the most important elements of any community garden! You will need to develop a way to function as a group. Typically, a great way to get started is with a kick-off meeting (or two) with as many people possible to ensure enough people are available to take responsibility for the tasks. Your group will need to decide how to make group decisions early on.


Your group will also want to:

Pick the Project Leader(s)

Choose a person (or people) who will work with the P-Patch office and other organizations, coordinate participants, and groups. They will follow up with people if tasks are not getting done on schedule.

Form a Leadership Group

The driving force behind garden development is the leadership group. Its size depends on the size of the overall garden and should be as diverse as your community. It is the responsibility of the leadership group to work and communicate with the larger community in an inclusive way throughout garden development. Along with the community, the leadership group decides on the appropriate landscape architects.

Create an Outreach Team

Identify people who want to work on outreach - remember, outreach should be ongoing through every stage of garden development!

Have a Fundraising Coordinator

The fundraising coordinator works together with the project leadership and community to raise money for the project. This includes writing solicitation letters, grants, and requests for supply donations. Additionally, they will keep track of volunteer hours, compose reports, and submit invoices. They will also need to work with a fiscal agent (such as GROW) to develop budgets for the garden.

Pick Work Party Leaders

Work Party Leaders organize community members, volunteers, and connect with other groups that promote community service to form work parties which will undertake the actual building of the garden. Once the work is done, Work Party Leaders should remember to send thank-you notes to those who helped out!

Choose a Tool Organizer

The Tool Organizer works with work party leaders, the project leader(s), and the leadership group about the tools necessary for each work party. Occasionally, the Tool Organizer may need to call the P-Patch office to arrange for use, pickup, and redelivery of tools.

Select a Supply Chief

The garden's Supply Chief works with other organizers to make sure all the supplies necessary are obtained and delivered.

Start a Refreshments Crew

Your garden's refreshments crew ensures that there'll be light refreshments and beverages available at work parties and meetings. For people who may be unable to participate in the more physical side of construction, this is a great way to be involved! 

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


Finding a Landscape Architect

  • 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 the skill needed to complete the garden such as carpentry, web design, and plumbing. 
  • Remember Outreach! The P-Patch Program can help with a mass mailing to the neighborhood to announce meeting times and share meeting preparation materials. 
  • Designs should emphasize simplicity and high-quality infrastructure while using materials that are readily available for community volunteers to maintain in the future. 

You may need to apply for funding.

One possible source of funding for both design and development is the Seattle 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 fundraising.

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 fundraising and planning for physically building the garden.

Required Design and Garden Elements
Design Guidelines

A P-Patch Community Garden should:

  • Be no less than 4,000 square feet; or, in high-density areas, there should be space for at least 20 people to be involved; 
  • Allow for garden beds, a shed, as well as common and gathering areas; 
  • Be safe; 
  • Be unique to the community as well as culturally appropriate for the neighborhood;
  • Be built with reused, recycled, and sustainable materials whenever possible; 
  • Be built with permeable surfaces whenever possible, minimizing hard infrastructure (i.e. cement); 
  • Be built by both community members and professional contractors as needed by the garden element.

P-Patch Community Garden designs should include:

  • Space for future projects to emerge organically by being partly "undone"; 
  • Plots for community members, including individuals, families, seniors, school, giving gardens, or other groups, to grow safe, culturally appropriate food. 
  • Inclusive design. This includes raised beds with seating and wheelchair access along the main path to a gathering space and the shed from the 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; 
  • A composting area; 
  • Open space resources for the surrounding neighborhood and the larger community to visit and enjoy. This space should incorporate welcoming elements such as an entrance or passive educational signs, benches, picnic tables, and artistic elements; 
  • Places that provide food and shelter for multiple wildlife; 
  • Educational space for hands-on experiential learning and passive education such as signage and kiosks; 
  • Green spaces such as communal flower areas and native plant areas; 
  • Special features like greenhouses, beehives, communication boards, and orchards where space permits; 
  • Art and other aesthetic elements. 

Other Considerations

  • Rectilinear design: As much as possible, the garden plot should be laid out in straight lines with right angles. This makes it easier to divide the space into consistently sized garden plots. 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 input of supplies and needs access for on-going maintenance. Storage areas should be placed 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. If part of a multiple use site, such as a P-Patch in a park, the 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, the leadership structure established, a garden design adopted, the 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 during construction to take advantage of individual 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; 
  • Installation of a water source (including the installation of a new meter by Seattle Public Utilities) and an irrigation system connection (including use of a trenching machine); 
  • Build a tool shed - this should be installed first so there is secure storage for tools while the garden is built; 
  • Install fencing or other border defining elements; 
  • Hold a potluck at the garden; 
  • Construct garden beds; 
  • Build a compost bin; 
  • Create common areas; 
  • Carry out soil ecology amendments; 
  • Construct special features;
  • Throw a grand opening celebration; 
  • Assign plots (if applicable); 
  • Hold a gardener gathering!

Throughout the development period, the group should work to develop a site management team that will take over once the garden is growing.  There are many ways to organize and the P-Patch staff will work with the garden to set up a leadership structure. To help you think 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 will work with site leadership to monitor plot usage and rule compliance;
  • Work with site leadership on issues that arise; 
  • Application processing; 
  • Plot assignment; 
  • Maintaining interest and wait lists; 
  • Gardener turnover - removal and replacement; 
  • Emergencies; 
  • Outreach facilitation; 
  • Materials and Educational resources; 
  • Dispute resolution; 
  • Develop and maintain interagency and outside organizational liaison; 
  • Liability Insurance.