Chinatown-International District's happiest corner: How this neighborhood garden keeps community rooted
ummer at the Danny Woo Community Garden is spectacular. Sunlight slides through bright green foliage and everything is in full bloom. This is the largest green space in the Chinatown-International District, spanning roughly 2.5 acres.
The garden’s most vibrant members are a lively bunch of elders who tend to the 80 vegetable and flower plots that line the terraced garden.
One morning in June, a group of community elders is assembled around a wooden table by the entrance gate of the garden. They bicker and burst into laughter as a fellow gardener comes by the table and playfully accuses another gardener of taking her plants.
Kae-Li Deng, who manages the garden, translates the argument.
“There is an argument in our WeChat group,” she explains. “One gardener says Mr. Yang stole her plants. But Mr. Yang [says] it was a misunderstanding”.
According to Deng, these disputes are par for the course here at the garden.
Yuying Chou, one of the elders who gardens Danny Woo, leads us up a winding staircase to her plot. A maze of narrow pathways and makeshift steps climbs the hill, taking us past several plots, each one stamped with the personality and quirks of its gardener.
Chou’s corner is blooming with light green sprigs of lettuce sprouting from the ground. Pink and yellow pots of fuchsia line the edge, dripping with downturned petals.
They are her favorite type of flower and she hasn’t forgotten that four of her best pots were stolen last year.
One thing that stands out at the garden is its mismatched, cobbled-together aesthetic. These are not plots with white picket fences and fancy bird feeders. Mismatched wire fencing traces the boundary of Ms. Chou’s plot. A towering trellis tied together with salvaged plastic connects to some scrap iron.
“This is from a bedframe,” Deng points out.
Chou chuckles heartily at her own creativity.
Growing food, looking for discarded items in the dumpster to breathe new life into them — these tenets of resourcefulness are normal at the garden.
It's a mindset that spans generations.
Many of the elders who garden at Danny Woo come from backgrounds where practicing sustainability and environmental consciousness was necessary for survival, and not just a lifestyle choice.
Some of them lived through the cultural revolution in China, where millions died from famine over the course of three devastating years. Others come from farming families and grew up understanding the careful natural balance needed for a healthy harvest year after year.
But perhaps there’s something more basic than sustainability principles or environmentalism that brings people to this place.
Getting that dirt stuck under your fingernails inspires a deep sense of joy and well-being.
That's why people like Chou come to the garden day after day, despite the occasional dispute or stolen flower pot.
Chou used to live in Issaquah but life in the foothills of the cascades left her isolated. Getting anywhere on her own was a challenge. But after moving to the Chinatown-International District, everything Chou needs is within walking distance — the grocery store, the hospital, and now the garden.
She has always loved growing her own veggies and flowers — she had a sizable garden in Issaquah and brought some of those plants with her. Naturally, the first thing she had to do when she moved to the Chinatown-International District was find a place to grow her favorites.
A friend told her about the Danny Woo Community Garden and Chou began volunteering there. Kae Li and the other garden managers saw how much time she dedicated and decided to give her a plot.
Chou says she spends at least a third of her life in the garden. When asked how she feels when she is there, her jolly laughter rings through the air.
“Happy, happy!” she says.
The Chinatown-International District is always changing, building on its history and welcoming new influences at the same time. In many ways, it stands at the corner of yesterday and tomorrow.
Still, Chou and the other gardeners have put down roots. And they are going to keep on nurturing them, one day at a time.
This story was produced in collaboration with International Examiner.