Pea Patch Policy Proposal

I ran into Redmond's mayor, Rosemarie Ives, and her husband at the annual Derby Days event earlier this month. She and her husband had just returned from a trip to Boston where they took a “wonderful walk through the Fenway gardens.“ They couldn't say enough good things about the public gardens. I echo that sentiment.


I recently proposed that the Redmond Planning Commission consider adding the following policy to the Parks and Recreaton chapter of our Comprehensive Plan:

  • Develop and administer a seasonal pea patch for the non-commercial use, enjoyment, and edification of the residents of Redmond, especially in areas such as the Downtown and Overlake neighborhoods where a majority of homes have little or no garden space.

Gardening is a recreational activity. In the context of a public pea patch however, it becomes something much more. Pea patch gardening is a social, educational, and cultural institution whose value transcends generations and enriches gardeners as well as passers-by in countless ways.

<story>Several years ago, a father and his seven or eight year old son walked by my Pea Patch at Marymoor Park. The father asked me a question about some plant and the boy, standing between us, bent down, picked my largest and ripest strawberry, and at it with satisfaction.

His father snapped, "Johnny, you know better than to eat someone else's strawberries without asking. Now tell this gentleman you're sorry."

The boy looked at me beseechingly and said, "I'm sorry, mister. I didn't know... My a daddy told me this was a public garden." 

I explained that, "It is a public garden but my strawberries are private unless I choose to share them. I'll tell you what, since you're such a nice, polite young man, you can pick strawberries from my garden anytime. But," I warned, "you have to get up really early in the morning to beat the slugs to the biggest and sweetest ones". I added that he could grow his own strawberries in his own garden if his dad didn't mind.

The next growing season, I saw the boy and his father again. The father rolled a wheel barrow past me and said with a sideways smile, "Johnny wanted to grow his own strawberries this year. Thank you."</story>

A pea patch is and should be accessible to as many people as possible. No pea patch should be walled-off or "private". I believe that the best place in Redmond for a pea patch would be somewhere between or on the current City Hall site and the Sammamish River trail.  Why?  Because the site is central, sunny, has ample traffic, great sun and soil (I assume), plentiful water, and is only blocks from the greatest number of condominium and town house residents in the city.

Because pea patch gardening is such a unique activity, I strongly believe that it needs to be identified and dealt with individually in the Parks and Recreation chapter of our Comprehensive Plan. Establishing a pea patch for city residents will materially enhance property values in nearby neighborhoods, especially in the urban centers. I'm as surprised that we haven't created a pea patch program that dovetails with King County's once excellent program as I am determined to see that one gets started in the City of Redmond.

What do you think?

Comments (25)

  1. Lonnie McCullough says:

    Well I have some stories about the Fenway gardens ( used to live on Peterborough St right across from the ball park and the Fenway gardens ) for a while and all I can say is Glory Hole. I’m serious. This is where gay men got together to have deviant sex ( not that homosexuality is deviant in any way, but going to a public park where there are children and old ladies and gay men making love is very strange ). I had to find this out the hard way of course by walking right into a "situation" between 2 men. Of course after the fact it turns out that everyone in Boston knew this about Fenway but I had to find out the hard way. Just make sure that if you do get a pea garden to post signs that kindly ask everyone to refrain from making love in the gardens and you’ll be set.

  2. Lonnie McCullough says:

    Just to add, the Fenway Gardens are great. Its nice to have such a beautiful place to go and relax right in the city. Didn’t want my first story to seem completely negative 😉

  3. mike says:

    I’m all for Pea Patch programs, but it strikes me that your little anecdote is essentially arguing for exclusive private use of public property. How are you feeling about oil leases on public lands these days? 🙂

  4. Indeed, I am arguing for the private use of public property when the public good is clear and present. The logic by which you equate oil leases on federal lands to community gardening is a bit of a stretch. Oil field development and extractive mining operations do provide a benefit to the public but permits are not accessible to all citizens and are much more likely to have bad environmental side effects than community gardening.

    All that being said, your analysis of the intent of my "little anecdote" is absolutely correct. Actually, it’s a parable, albeit a true one.

    One of the great things about community pea patches is that they offer an ongoing and invaluable political lesson: YOU don’t own the land. *I* don’t own the land. WE own the land and for that reason it’s important that we develop and agree to abide by conventions, rules, and laws that help us balance our interests and share the fruits of public resources and/or labor in a fair and equitable way.

    In this case, the boy who ate my strawberry owned the land as much as me. However, I provided the plant, watered it, and reserved first rights to the harvest. Every resident, including that boy, had the same right to grow strawberries on their own assigned patch of public land. Implicit in this transaction was a social contract: ‘I won’t eat your strawberries and you don’t eat mine but anyone can grow them.’

    In the case of oil exploration and extraction, the division of public resources and the attending benefits are not so easily accomplished. So, to answer your question, I don’t know what I think about oil leases on public lands these days. It’s complicated.

    I do know that if the US government were to allow any citizen to drill for oil on a 10’x20′ plot of public land, we’d have another Pennsylvania on our hands.

  5. mike says:

    Though I generally agree with you, I don’t think it’s self-evident that allowing a minor form of homesteading on public park areas is a clear and present (huh?) public good. You can do this Gedankenexperiment: what if 100,000 people wanted their own p-patch gardens? Would/should the city … a) take over ever larger areas of the park for the p-patch program, or b) have to develop a system that would inevitably exclude some people (however deserving they might be) from having garden space?

    I must admit that I have trouble with the "WE own the land part" if bits of it can be fenced off for private use. Consider a hypothetical trout stream that runs adjacent to a number of houses, but is explicitly designated to be public property. Can I fence off a portion of it, improve it, and and claim exclusive harvest rights to any fish in my improved area? Although you would still be welcome to full use of the non-private portions of the stream, and would continue to hold joint title to all of it.

    These are hypothetical issues, of course. I myself am a heavy user of doggy OLAs, which of course set aside public land for a specific purpose. Although not for an _exclusive_ purpose; your dog may gambol as freely as mine in the area. Such exclusivity as there is is limited to owners picking up after their dogs. 🙂

    PS Do people pay to have a p-patch?

  6. Pea patches aren’t fenced off for private use, at least not any of the ones I know about. And yes, one must generally pay to play. Visitors can walk anywhere they want. Most visitors respect the gray, gray line between that which is public and that which is commonly understood to be private by refraining from walking atop vegetable plants or harvesting the fruits of somebody else’s labor. The dog run comparison is apt. You can think of the vegetables in a pea patch as a dog with a long attention span who stands in the same place for 4 months. You don’t *own* the space your dog occupies but you expect other dogs and dog walkers to respect your dog and the space that it occupies. Likewise, you expect dog walkers to leave the ground as close to how it was when they were there as it was beforehand.

  7. Scott says:


    My wife has plot in a P-Patch in Seattle. There are a limited number of spots in each P-Patch. In Seattle, you sign up for a waiting list and when a plot opens up they call you and you pay $40 (I think) a year and have to volunteer at least 8 hours a year towards working on the public sections of the P-Patch (taking care of planters in the P-Patch, chopping up vegitation for compost, turning the compost, planting trees, etc…). If a person doesn’t keep up their plot, it’s taken away from them and given to the next person on the waiting list. You can’t sell any of the produce from your plot, you can donate it to a food bank, give it away to friends, or eat it yourself (we’re bullish on squash so far this summer, but the peppers are coming along nicely).

    Seattle doesn’t have just one big P-Patch though. It has several spread throughout the city. You can read more about the program here.

    I think it’s a great idea for the more urban areas of Redmond (are there urban areas of Redmond?) but I don’t know how necessary it is since most houses in Redmond HAVE a backyard or some other area to grow things in.

  8. Scott says:

    Oh and other than the birds and the bees (literally) there’s no deviant sex in the Magnuson Park P-Patch.

  9. Persone los pioneros non rabata. Great…

  10. The establishment of Pea Patches in ALL neighborhoods should be a very high priority item. I work one on Mercer Island…my own property is too shaded by large trees surrounding it to be able to grow fruit or veggies, so this is a Godsend. There are several Pea Patch sites and this one, which is administered by the MI Parks & Rec costs $40 a year. Water is available at a stand pipe close by and all plots are rototilled in the Spring unless you elect otherwise. There are some there in their mid eighties who have been working their plots for years and their advice is invaluable, especially for new comers. This is my first year here although I used to work my Dad’s allotment ( the term for a Pea Patch in England) when he was away during the war, so I am not a newcomer. Over there allotments have been required to be made available since about 1850 and they are highly organized. You are able to buy all your gardening requirements through the Allotment Association ( you are automatically a member when you have a plot) at a substantial savings and each plot is required to be of "Ten square Rods"…a little larger than the one I work. At the moment I am growing tomatoes (ate the first three today…my earliest ever). rhubarb, onions, peas, runner beans, shallots, garlic, strawberries, corn, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, brussels sprouts, potatoes and black currants. Others here are growing flowers as well. It is a very friendly endeavour and i wouldn’t be without. Go for it.

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