By Heidi Coffee Skagen

It started with a desire to build and serve a community.

Sharon Evans lived at the end of her street next to an overgrown corner vacant lot. She noticed people coming and going often due to a school bus stop on the corner. She stood in her beautiful garden and looked over the fence at the corner where the weeds were taller than most of the people waiting for the bus. She realized the potential danger that posed as well as the eyesore the overrun lot was to the neighborhood. A seed of an idea started to take root.

The overgrown corner vacant lot next to Sharon Evan’s house.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Evans

Why not turn this place into a gathering spot for the community?

She began to make phone calls to the city to find out who owned the property and get permission to clear it and turn it into a community garden. Turns out, the lot was owned by the local utilities. They agreed to come out and clear the area.

The vacant lot is now ready for plants!
Photo courtesy of Sharon Evans

Sharon contacted me to make a simple garden plan which I gladly did pro bono. My family got involved in implementing the design. A local Boy Scout troop made a concrete bench. The rest is history.

Heidi Coffee Skagen working with the Boy Scouts to make a concrete bench.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Evans

Now parents mingle in the garden park while they wait for their kids to be dropped off from school.

Parents and students all enjoy the garden as they wait for the school bus.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Evans

Kids meet up with their friends to play board games at the little table Sharon has added to the park. Dog walkers take a break and sit among the flora for a few minutes of respite. Sharon has hosted a National Night Out Bar B Q and potluck as well as community garden work parties at the park. When a neighbor passed away, someone from the community made and placed an ornamental memorial rock at the park in remembrance.

A remembrance stone made by a member of the community.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Evans

There is no question that it takes a special person who is willing to put in the effort to start a community garden and rally people to make it happen.

Sharon has added whimsical elements to the garden.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Evans

Neighborhood garden work party.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Evans

While Sharon’s garden is flowers and native plants, there are many around our cities and neighborhoods where people can grow food as well.

It is no surprise to us in APLD how healing and inspiring gardens and nature are to the overall well being of individuals and communities. However, the rest of the world is also starting to see how beneficial and life-giving gardens can be.

Years ago, I attended a symposium at Orca Elementary School in Seattle. It is an inner city school that was trying out an experimental curriculum which focused on kids raising salad gardens as part of the school day. The principal of the school spoke to us about the dramatic changes she had seen in the overall school community since the program had begun a couple years before. She said that aggression issues had decreased, student attendance and parental participation had become more regular, there were less disciplinary issues, test scores increased, and the students and families were implementing more vegetables and healthy eating habits into their daily diets.

Teachers gave testimonials on how life changing it was for some students to get their hands into soil and see how life can come from that. They noted that, at that time, there were no opportunities for a lot of the students to get their hands in the earth. Most of the playgrounds in that area were concrete and asphalt. A lot of the students lived in apartments.

As I was putting together this article, I decided to check in with Orca Elementary School. I was delighted to see that not only was the garden curriculum going strong after all these years, but it had expanded so much that the school was known for its "Famous Garden Program". Check out the link at the end of this article.

Cities have found similar positive effects on their neighborhoods where community gardens have been implemented.

Beautiful mosaic artwork at the Belltown P-Patch.
Photo courtesy of Heidi Coffee Skagen

Social ties are created which help reduce the crime rate and encourage safer living environments. They give an opportunity to engage all ages and races for a common purpose. Additionally, they give access to fresh produce in areas where there are few to no options to buy or secure affordable and healthy food. These areas, known as "food deserts", are often found in geographic locations where poverty and unemployment are widespread and the main sustenance options are reduced to fast food.

This is all well and good but what does it have to do with APLD? Recently, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee was formed to "enrich the diversity of perspective reflected within our organization in order to strengthen the work of our profession and ensure our relevance and positive impact in our practice." Through my involvement with Sharon Evans and her community garden, it has been a joy to watch how a garden can impact people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures. It has been a great way to introduce people to the world of plants, gardens, and landscaping. I have had many conversations with volunteers who are looking for direction in their life. I love to tell them about what I do and encourage them to consider a career in horticulture. The industry possibilities are endless! And of course, I mention being a part of APLD and the beautiful cohort of individuals that make up its membership and provide yearly scholarships for students pursuing careers in horticulture.

Making a positive difference in the Northwest is near and dear to the heart of APLDWA. Community garden involvement is a real-deal opportunity to not only build our industry, but to impact lives for the better by providing healthy options and lifestyles among the people who live here. I encourage all members of APLD to get involved on some level with garden programs at schools, community gardens and P-Patches, and/or educating communities about the importance of land stewardship.

Beautiful Painted artwork at the Belltown P-Patch.
Photo courtesy of Heidi Coffee Skagen

Ron Finley, AKA the Gangsta Gardener, is making a game-changing difference in South Central L.A. If you need a high dose of motivational inspiration to get involved in a similar way here in the Northwest, his video will do it!

I am thankful for the Sharon Evanses and Ron Finleys out there who take on projects that are bigger than themselves. Their empathy for the world is infectious.

It all starts with a desire to build and serve a community.


Orca Elementary Famous Garden Program:

Ron Finley, AKA the Gangsta Gardener:

Check out these community gardens:
Beacon Food Forest
Danny Woo Community Garden
P-patch List for Seattle Neighborhoods
Federal Way Community Gardens Foundation
Light of Christ Community Garden in Federal Way

More Resources:

If you would like more information on how to get involved with our DEI Committee contact Sarah Van Sanden at or call her at 206.403.8140