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Shoreline's secret garden faded into history. The community wants to dig it back up

Who knows how many times Kathleen Lumiere had walked by the dilapidated house in her Shoreline neighborhood before she noticed them? It was on a pandemic-era walk when they could no longer be ignored — plums, peeking over a fence. And they were enticing.

"They were ripe and delicious looking ... and delicious, in fact," Lumiere told KUOW's Seattle Now. "And I was like, ‘Oh, wow. This in an amazing, amazing place.'"

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To the casual observer, the property had long decayed. Paint was chipping off the house with boarded up windows. Blackberry bushes and vines had advanced over the surrounding area. But Lumiere explored and spotted more fruit trees. She found herself returning to the disheveled lot at 16034 Greenwood Avenue North, again and again. There was more than meets the eye to this place.

"It had really, really good soil — my dad was a horticulturist, so I could tell that the soil was amazing," Lumiere said. "It didn't make any sense that an abandoned blackberry patch would have such amazing soil and such vigorous fruit trees. Even though they had been neglected for so long, they were still producing."

It was a mystery to be solved, so Lumiere started asking around, neighbor by neighbor. A story began to take shape, about a once glorious garden, tended to by a locally loved family who not only grew in that soil, they planted themselves in Seattle history. Their life had faded under the tangled weight of blackberry thorns and weeds.

The story became a seed of inspiration for Lumiere, which soon grew and took root with others. It even bloomed in the halls of local government. Now, locals are at the property, clearing, pruning, and cleaning; aiming to return this garden to its former glory.

A Shoreline garden

This wasn't just any home. It was the home of Joe and Jennie Ching. After moving to the area in the 1950s, they spent their life crafting the land, fertilizing it with coffee grounds and kitchen scraps to feed the many organic vegetables they grew. They cultivated fruit trees, spanning Asian pears to figs, apples to persimmon. There was a koi pond and a small bridge. It was constructed as many Asian gardens are, with no straight lines, so visitors could wander along its curves and discover something around each corner.

There were many visitors over the years. Joe had a reputation for taking delight in chatting up passersby and giving them a tour of his home, even strangers. He'd make sure they'd have a bag full of produce when they left. The family even once threw a Hawaiian lūʻau for the entire neighborhood. After a chance drive-by from gardening celebrity Ed Hume, who found the entire site so impressive, the Ching's creation was frequently featured on his TV show "Gardening in America." It wasn't just a garden the Chings were growing — they were digging up warmth and joy to share with Shoreline and beyond.

This was a home that Joe and Jennie worked and fought hard for.

caption: Joe Ching was the first executive chef at Seattle's Canlis restaurant. Living in Shoreline, he was an avid fisherman.
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1 of 4 Joe Ching was the first executive chef at Seattle's Canlis restaurant. Living in Shoreline, he was an avid fisherman.
Courtesy of Pam Ching Bunge

Joe spent World War II learning to cook in the military (Jennie spent those years incarcerated in a camp). After the war, Joe became a cook in Honolulu. That's where he met Peter Canlis — as in Seattle's celebrated, super fancy Canlis restaurant. At the time Canlis was starting a restaurant in Hawaii, and he hired Joe to cook there. When Canlis started an upscale restaurant in Seattle, he asked Joe to be its head chef. That brought the Ching family to Seattle. But it wasn't a smooth transition.

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They moved to Seattle's Leschi neighborhood first, but they wanted a better space for their three kids. Joe and Jennie found a home on Shoreline. It had a good reputation for schools and was near fishing spots for Joe. It was the 1950s, though, and many Shoreline homes had racial covenants that barred nonwhites from buying properties there. Canlis stepped in and purchased the home. He was upfront with the neighbors about what he was doing before turning around and selling the home to the Ching family (those neighbors became lifelong friends).

They started gardening right away, sort of. The family spent years tearing out weeds and removing rocks. The land was once a dump, so they cleared out old car parts and other debris.

At one point, Joe built a baseball field in the back. Kids from around the neighborhood came to play. It eventually lost popularity, so Joe planted fruit trees and grape vines. A German friend could not find kohlrabi (a type of turnip) locally, so the Chings started growing some.

Flowers were planted — dahlias, irises, roses, chrysanthemums — alongside vegetables. Joe added the koi pond with a waterfall and a little pagoda.

As they grew older and could not as easily keep up with the massive garden, the Chings let neighbors come and plant their own garden plots.

"One of the things that I really enjoyed growing up here is all the neighbors," said Pam Ching-Bunge, Joe and Jennie's daughter, who lives in Edmonds today. "They were lifetime friends, especially of my mom. That was just really a wonderful feeling."

Bringing it back

After Joe passed away in 2005, and Jennie after that, the property was sold to a developer in 2014. The house sat there and faded over the years. All of Joe and Jennie's hard work was quickly overcome by vines. It was barely recognizable, that is, if you could even see it. The house could not even be viewed from the street, blocked by massive blackberry bushes.

Despite living nearby, Pam began avoiding her old neighborhood in recent years.

"I couldn't stand driving by here, because it was so derelict," she said. "My father and my mother worked so hard to keep this place picture perfect.”

Eventually, Kathleen Lumiere took that fateful — and fruitful — neighborhood walk, and tasted those plums. Something had to change.

caption: Maryn Wynne, a volunteer, and Kathleen Lumiere work at the former home of Joe and Jennie Ching. The property was once a glorious garden that produced organic food and fruit, but quickly decayed after they passed away. An effort emerged in 2021 to revive it and turn it into a community garden in Shoreline.
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1 of 5 Maryn Wynne, a volunteer, and Kathleen Lumiere work at the former home of Joe and Jennie Ching. The property was once a glorious garden that produced organic food and fruit, but quickly decayed after they passed away. An effort emerged in 2021 to revive it and turn it into a community garden in Shoreline.
Juan Pablo Chiquiza / KUOW

Lumiere wrote to the Shoreline City Council, proposing to preserve the property as an Asian American Heritage Site. Perhaps a community P-patch could be created. Nothing was done at the local level.

She ended up contacting Pam and told her about her ideas to revitalize the property. Pam started to cry.

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The idea grew all the way to the King County Council, where it got the attention of Councilmember Rod Dembowski.

To make anything happen, the developer that owned the property would have to sell it. It was not interested. Still, with the help of a non-profit, GROW, Lumiere pursued a grant to purchase the property. She got one from King County Conservation Futures. It still wasn't enough.

That's when the Canlis family stepped up with a bridge loan to push the effort over the top. The non-profit, GROW, handled the sale and bought the site for $1.8 million in December 2023.

Work on the Ching Community Garden is officially underway. The plan is to convert it back into a garden worthy of the Ching family, for the community to enjoy.

These days, volunteers at the Ching Community Garden are busy pruning trees and cleaning up the property. There is still plenty of work to do. But there is a community confidence that the Ching home will return, along with a warm and joyful spirit that Joe and Jennie worked into the soil over the many years they lived in this corner of Shoreline.

"I think my parents would just be thrilled and tickled pink, because of all the love and work, and it what it would have meant to them," Pam said.

Listen to the full story on KUOW's Seattle Now.

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