DescriptionI am a gardener at a community PPatch garden in Seattle, Washington. I also volunteer/write for the PPatch Post, which is a free bi-yearly newspaper that is mailed to each gardener in the PPatch program. I wrote the below article, which appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of the PPatch Post.
Her name is Bonnie Hedman, but she’s better known as the ‘Gardening Grandma.’ If you’ve ever visited or spent any amount of time at the UpGarden, the P-Patch community garden that sits atop the Seattle Center parking garage, you’ve probably seen her working in the common beds, or leading a children’s group through the ‘touch and smell’ garden, or helping a new gardener get trained on how things work.
She’s the driving force behind the garden’s partnership with the Center School, the alternative high school located at the Seattle Center, which has its own student plot in the garden. She also manages the garden’s partnership with the nearby Brookdale Senior Living home, which grows the starts each year for the garden’s Giving Garden and the Children’s Garden. And she’s responsible for creating the ‘touch and smell’ garden, which allows visually challenged students to experience the garden in a way they couldn’t before.
Each year, P-Patch gardeners are required to put in 8 community service hours as part of the agreement to keep their plot. Last year, Bonnie logged 370 volunteer hours.
Bonnie took over leadership of the garden about a year ago, but she’s been involved in the garden since the planning stages.
“I noticed a sign at QFC regarding the development of the garden, so I decided to go to a meeting, it was the group’s third one, and I’ve been involved ever since.”
Despite having a physical disability that prevented her from helping with the labor, Bonnie even took part in the construction of the garden back in 2012.
“I would fill my basket with screws, batteries, and water and would refill the crews’ supplies and make sure everyone was hydrated,” Bonnie said. “One day, I went home, made burritos and brought them back for lunch.”
The original plans for the garden included a Children’s Garden, so Bonnie took it upon herself to reach out to local schools, which led her to the Young Children Academy, a local preschool.
“We started by growing seeds and starts at the school and then I would take them up to the garden and plant them,” Bonnie said. “One year they planted mini-pumpkins, and then when we harvested them, they got to decorate them.”
That connection led her to the Seattle Public School district, which was looking for a place to take the district’s visually impaired students. During a day camp, they developed the ‘touch and smell’ garden, which includes plants such as pineapple sage, which smells like its namesake, and yaro, which feels like a feather.
“It allows the kids to smell and touch the garden and experience it in a way other than seeing it.”
Looking for a way to get more people from the Seattle Center involved, Bonnie submitted a proposal to the Pacific Science Center to bring kids from the summer day camps up to the garden, which they’ve now been doing for three years. The Children’s Museum came on board last summer.
“I just try to keep my eyes open for opportunities to get different groups involved with the garden, especially when they’re right in the neighborhood.”
The Seattle Center partnership led to a relationship with the Center School, an alternative high school located at the Seattle Center. Students from two science classes now come up to tend to their plot at the garden.
“The AP class is really cool because they do experiments for class, like which fertilizer works best,” said Bonnie. “And it’s fun because sometimes they even bring their families up to show off what they’ve been working on.”
In addition to all the educational outreach, Bonnie also manages the garden’s partnership with the Brookdale Senior Living home, located a couple blocks from the garden. Originally, another UpGarden gardener approached the senior home as part of a class assignment on community involvement, and the residents got involved by growing the starts used in the Giving Garden. That evolved into two women who now grow all the starts for both the Giving Garden and the Children’s Garden.
“I like to pick flowers from our common beds and make bouquets and take them over to the residents.”
Bonnie has been gardening for 40 years. She was an Army brat growing up and moved around a lot—but she remembers her family always growing food, no matter where they lived. As an adult, she lived in Montana with her two children, and home-grown food was an important part of their diet.
She’s been gardening ever since moving to Seattle with her kids in 1976, whether it was a flower pot on an apartment patio or a shared garden at the Interbay P-Patch. She even managed to garden while living on a sailboat in Shilshole Marine for 7 years.
So why does someone volunteer 370 hours of their time to a community garden? One reason is that it can be tough to build a network of friends in a large city such as Seattle.
“I need people. And up there, we’re all gardeners. My community is so enlarged by the UpGarden,” Bonnie said.
Bonnie says it’s also important to give back to the community. “I’ve always lived that way, it’s just part of who I am.”
One of the biggest benefit she gets from spending so much time at the garden is her physical well-being.
“Physically, I’ve lost 40 pounds from walking back and forth from my apartment to the garden. And my bone density has also gone up almost 9%,” Bonnie said.
But more importantly, her mental well-being is also vastly improved.
“When I became disabled to the point I couldn’t work, I felt like I’d lost all value. I went from being an executive to living below the poverty line,” Bonnie said. “But at the UpGarden, I can use my organizational and computer skills from when I worked.”
But despite all the benefits, Bonnie does concede she does have her limits when it comes to how much she can do.
“I have to balance the health aspect—it keeps me healthy to be up there, but I’ve learned I can’t overdo it. And there are certain tasks at the garden I’m not able to do since I’m disabled.”
But anyone who knows her knows that disability doesn’t stop her from getting up to the garden nearly every day, rain or shine. She’s also become involved in the UpTown Alliance, a community development organization that is supportive of keeping the garden in the neighborhood when the Seattle Center parking garage comes down (those plans were always in the works, even before the garden was built).
“I’m learning about attending political meetings, and learning how to be an advocate for a cause, which is fun, because it’s not something I’ve done before!”
Bonnie logged 370 hours of volunteer in time in 2015, but she expects she’ll log as many, if not more, in 2016, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The garden pays me back every day in so many ways.”