You set out to have a garden and end up making friends, is a sentiment shared by many of the gardeners at the Panorama Pea Patch. “When the weather warms up, the umbrellas and chairs come out, and we sit and visit,” says Linda Shaudis. “It’s so nice.”
For $20 a year and the cost of seeds or starts, residents of Panorama can plant a garden in the Pea Patch. Residents often grow friendships and community too. Late May is when activity in the three acre gardening area off of Golf Course Road really picks up. Perennials are leafed-out and begin to bloom, vegetable seeds and starts are put in the ground, and weeds are pulled. The gardeners are as busy as the bees.
“Those with a plot can plant whatever they want however they like,” says Jim DeYoung. People grow flowers, a variety of vegetables, apples, and even grapes. Each plot shows the creativity and skills of its tender, and the plants all seem to flourish. Plants and people both. Each person shares a smile and a happy greeting. With a rake or hose in hand, they are all happy to be out tending their plants.
Panorama contributes 75 yards of soil in the spring and loads of leaves for mulch in the fall. They also haul away trimmings. The garden is on a well and each plot has a spigot. Gardeners are responsible for their own watering and watering equipment. Some people put in drip lines, others use hoses and some hand water with buckets and pitchers.
One plot has been dedicated to bee hives another to fruit trees. Grapes line the edge of one garden and raspberry canes create hedges all throughout the area.
Each garden plot is 30 square feet. Some ambitious gardeners tend more than one plot. Others choose to share an area and only tend half. There are shovels, rakes, and hoes with blue bands painted on the handles that are available if a gardener doesn’t have their own tools. And inside the shed are numbered bins for people to store their own tools for easy access. A few machines, like string trimmers and tillers, can be borrowed to make the work easier.
Jim has two plots he tends. He donates most of the yield to the Thurston County Food Bank. Jim plants mostly vegetables in high demand at the food bank. “One thing they really wanted more than anything else was parsnips and beets,” he shares, so Jim planted lots of those. Other Pea Patch gardeners donate too, setting out their surplus for Jim to haul to downtown Olympia on Tuesday mornings during the growing season.
Many more gardeners contribute to Friday Share right there at the Pea Patch Garden House. Growers donate as much as they want of the vegetables, fruit, and flowers they’ve grown each week. Other Panorama residents are invited to come and get what they want. Friday Share opens at 10:00 a.m., but gardeners and about 15 volunteers show up early to help wash and display the harvest, arrange tables and chairs, and oversee the shoppers.
“Friday Share is a joyous thing,” says Linda. “There are smiling faces, people catching up.” Often 40-50 people show up to get food fresh from the garden. Each person is given a number, so they don’t have to stand in line. Chairs are set out and they visit until their number is called. Donation jars are set out, and people give what they can. Donations help cover the cost of equipment maintenance and mowing between plots of the Pea Patch
On opening day of Friday Share, which usually happens in late June, they celebrate the first harvest of the season by giving out donuts and juice too.
Corn is a big draw to the Friday Share, so four plots have been dedicated to grow just that. Corn is the biggest funder for the Pea Patch. Rows are planted in succession to assure two full months of continuous harvest, and many happy residents savor their corn through the height of summer.
Cathy Smith tends a corner of the garden dedicated to growing flowers for the Panorama Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center (C&R). The fresh cut flowers she grows are taken to the C&R and residents make flower arrangements for the dining room. “The garden helps people stay healthy,” Cathy shares. “Even though you’re retired you’ve got to get out and do something, give something. That’s why I do it.”
Along with the good food that is grown, Alice Falter has witnessed how the garden motivates people to recover from an illness or injury, because they want to be out working in their plot. And the activity itself can be therapeutic. “I’ll see someone come here with a walker, and pretty soon the walker is set aside and they are watering or whatever,” says Alice. “It’s a healing garden in many ways.”