If the Wallingford neighborhood has a heart, a strong case could be made that Meridian Park and the Good Shepherd Center are a big part of it. The Meridian School and the Wallingford Community Senior Center serve two ends of the local age spectrum. The Wallingford Farmers’ Market draws in big crowds during the summer months. Seattle Tilth attracts eager crowds with an interest in plants with classes and plant sales. The venerable old Good Shepherd Center is home to a delightful mixed bag of community-oriented groups. The old building itself maintains the funkiness that, even in the face of the constant local redevelopment pressures and recent work to bring things up to code, proudly wears its history and tradition.
Along the southern edge of the park is a mosaic of roughly 40 garden plots that reflect the seasons by exploding in floral brilliance or astonishing fruit and vegetable productivity. These gardens make up the Good Shepherd P-Patch, one of the 89 community gardens throughout the city supported by the City of Seattle through the Department of Neighborhoods. The P-Patch Program began in 1973, with the city’s acquisition of part of the Picardo truck farm in that noted agricultural area—Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood. The “P” in “P-Patch” stands for Picardo; and the Picardo P-Patch still thrives in Wedgwood.
I have had a plot in the Good Shepherd P-Patch in Meridian Park for a long time. A really long time. In fact, I don’t know when I first started gardening there; I do know that my son is 26 years old, and my presence in the garden predates him. I recall that I was on a waiting list for quite a while before I was informed that a plot was available. It was like winning the lottery. P-Patch gardening was popular then, especially in a place like Wallingford with typically little or no yard space, and I believe it must be as popular or more so in the Time of Covid. According to the Department of Neighborhoods, there are currently 75 people on the waiting list for a garden plot at Good Shepherd.
As a longtime Good Shepherd P-Patch gardener, I’ve often wondered about the origin of the garden. After all, the Good Shepherd Center itself has a long and storied history. In trying to uncover and clarify a little of that history, I was aided immeasurably by Tara Macdonald, who is the Lead Gardener for the Good Shepherd Center; and Barb Burrill, who has worked with Tara in researching the history of the site. These two were a virtual gold mine of information, including old photos and links to other people with knowledge about this neighborhood jewel.
The Good Shepherd Center, originally known as Home of the Good Shepherd and operated as a shelter and educational center for young women, was built in 1906. It continued in that mission until 1973, when declining demand forced it to close. The City of Seattle purchased the site in 1975 and transferred the title to Historic Seattle to operate as a community center. The informational website for the Good Shepherd P-Patch states, “The Wallingford Community Council and many neighborhood activists were involved in site design; they wanted their park to reflect their neighborhood soul…Their visions were grand; they included a greenhouse, a teaching center, and a community garden. We can thank them for their insight, as all of those activities come together at Good Shepherd every day.”
The current location of the garden, like the rest of the Good Shepherd site, has a colorful history. Tara Macdonald told me: “Almost everything I know I get from aerial photos of the site taken starting in 1929. These are mostly housed in the Department of Engineering for the City, but some including more recent ones are at the UW library…About half, the east half, of the area that is now the P-Patch was part of the ‘Girl’s Yard’ where the adolescent and teenage residents of the Home of the Good Shepherd recreated. The area was covered by a concrete slab and used as a tennis court.”
The Good Shepherd P-Patch was and is figuratively and literally attached to Seattle Tilth (now Tilth Alliance), the venerable institution that has been educating Seattle about urban horticulture for over 40 years. Tilth’s current demonstration garden borders the Good Shepherd P-Patch to the east. After the city bought the property, Seattle Tilth convinced the Parks Department to let it use part of it for an urban agriculture demonstration project. Between 1978 and 1979, Tilth established its first garden plots, and the old tennis courts were broken up and removed.
While we know about the origins of Tilth and their first garden plots, there is surprisingly scant information about when the Good Shepherd P-Patch was officially created. However, Barb Burrill did find notes from the Department of Neighborhoods and from HistoryLink that indicates the Good Shepherd P-Patch was established in 1981, just a few years after Tilth’s first gardens. This also means that we current P-Patchers missed out on celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Good Shepherd garden this past growing season! On the other hand, the pandemic thing has made it difficult to celebrate much of anything in the last two years. We can hope that by the 50th anniversary, Covid and any subsequent unanticipated apocalyptic events will be well in hand and there will be a big party…
In the meantime: the Good Shepherd P-Patch will continue to be a little oasis of contemplative beauty for Wallyhood. More tangibly, P-Patchers have also contributed over 1600 pounds of fresh produce, greens, and flowers this season to the FamilyWorks Food Bank in the best gardening tradition of sharing the harvest with neighbors. Please enjoy our shared community space—See you next spring!