By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
You don’t have to have a sprawling valley full of farm fields to celebrate flowers.
The West Seattle neighbors who created “Gatewood Gardens” have done it with boxes and borders along a busy city street.
Walking in Gatewood, we had seen the flowers but didn’t realize they were part of a unified neighborhood project until an email from Krista Billinghurst. She explained that the pandemic stay-home time inspired neighbor Aaron Smith to plant tulip and daffodil bulbs along a 2-block stretch of California Avenue SW – including her corner (at SW Portland) where, she said, “he asked if he could plant some tulips in a garden box we had on our parking strip. It was an overgrown mess of weeds that I’m sure everyone was tired of looking at.”
The results drew attention from passersby.
One year later, Krista continues, Aaron “added bulbs to a second box we had, along with an idea he and I had to surprise my husband by planting a row of daffodils in honor of his father.It was great to see how much people were enjoying the flowers so when the lockdown hit, he wanted to extend the idea down the block. In the past couple of years over 5000 bulbs have been planted as a way of adding a little beauty and enjoyment to everyone who passes by. … We joke that we’re beautifying our neighborhood, one parking strip at a time.”
More than a strip, in some cases. Aaron is across SW Portland from Krista, at a house longtime passersby (like us) might recognize just by his description: “My favorite anecdote is that our house might be like the hotel in ‘The Shining.’ It makes its inhabitants crazy. In our case, crazy for gardening. The former homeowner notoriously ripped out the front lawn, sifted every bit of rock and gravel out of it by hand, and replanted it, only to start the entire process again several times. Hundreds of people have made a point to tell Michael and me about Mr. Nettle’s never-ending battle for the perfect lawn … It must have been very pronounced, and white a weird scene to have made such a lasting impression on so many people. Anyway, maybe that’s what’s happening to us. This property is turning us into gardening fanatics who can’t even be confined to our own yard in our pursuits of beautiful gardens.”
He describes himself as “an enthusiastic hobby gardener” who tends to buy “way more bulbs each fall than I have space to plant. Like hundreds (or even thousands, ahem) more.” His neighbors’ fallow planting boxes beckoned. First year, tulips. Then the daffodils. And then: “Last spring, when enforced social distancing started, we noticed dozens and dozens of passerbys stopping to look at the show. Drivers pulling over cars to get out and take pictures. Parents with young children coming by every few days, pointing out the growth and changes. Every day people would stop to express gratitude and appreciation. Several people told us they’d changed their walking and driving patterns in order to see them. It was really cool and encouraging to have a part in creating (and sharing in) that joy. Bulbs planted in mass make people happy. They just do.”
Other neighbors have gotten involved. As Aaron says, “Why shouldn’t West Seattle become known for showcasing tons of spectacular, abundant, and colorful bulbs each spring? Wouldn’t that be so cool?”
Krista says neighborhood friendships have bloomed with the flowers: “Living on a busy street such as California provides challenges for building a community. We don’t have a block watch or block parties, and the traffic noise can really drown out any chance of conversations, especially now that traffic has increased with the bridge being out. But this project of Aaron’s has fostered some friendships and camaraderie that were not there before. We hope that neighbors will continue to stop by and say hello, and we encourage anyone to join in for next year. We love our little corner of West Seattle and hope that it brings a smile to anyone passing through.”
If you can’t go visit in person – again, the general area is California/Portland – they have an Instagram account for neighborhood photos (which span the seasons, even holiday lights): instagram.com/gatewoodgardens.