Seattle's 'UpGarden' P-Patch takes community gardening to new heights

Jun 4, 2012

It’s a first-of-its-kind in Seattle and perhaps even the country. Over the weekend, the city celebrated the opening of its first-ever rooftop community garden.  

Its design is garnering interest from around the region, as urban planners look for ways to integrate more open space and urban agriculture into increasingly dense neighborhoods.

The rooftop P-Patch known as UpGarden came about by necessity. In 2008, a voter approved parks and green spaces levy specifically called out the Queen Anne neighborhood for a new community garden. But Lower Queen Anne, where the city wanted to put one, is so densely populated, says Seattle’s P-Patch coordinator Laura Raymond, it was a struggle to find a suitable spot.

“There’s just not very much vacant land," Raymond says. "And the land that might have been possible is well-beyond our budget to purchase.” 

But there were several parking garages. And one of the largest ones is owned by the Seattle Center, which was looking to demonstrate sustainable futures as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations. Rosen says it was a perfect match and put the planning on a fast track. In just 6 months, UpGarden came together, just a few blocks north of the Spaceneedle at 3rd and Mercer, with cars still using the space below.  

 “It’s still a functioning parking garage, so it’s really kind of a great multi-use space now," Rosen says. "We’re using a portion of the very top deck, probably about a third of the total area on the top of the garage and the garage is huge. It takes up almost two city blocks.”

One of the toughest design challenges was structural. It turns out saturated soil can be heavier than parked cars, so they had to create raised beds and put in wide walkways to keep from exceeding weight restrictions.

There’s also a beehive, compost bins, an Airstream trailer that’s been re-purposed as a tool shed and a whimsical art car planter.

But there’s still enough space for nearly 120 garden plots.

Susan Costello has worked more than 100 volunteer hours to earn one. As an apartment-dweller with no balcony, she’s excited to get into gardening. But more than that, she loves the community they’re growing.

“I mean you throw together a couple hundred perfect strangers and we are together some of us 3-5 days a week for this project," Costello says. It's just amazing...It’s great!”

All the volunteer hours helped keep the budget to just $150-thousand dollars.

UpGarden is temporary, because Seattle Center’s master plan calls for a tear down of the garage it’s on in the next 3-5 years. But the city says the lessons learned designing it -- and the community it’s built -- will pay off for future projects.