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Peaceful patch of summer
Pea patch may be Mercer Island’s best-kept secret
By Elizabeth Celms
Mercer Island Reporter
A lovely little pea patch overlooking Lake Washington may be the Island’s best-kept secret.
Tucked behind the Community Center at Mercer View lies a wondrous haven of sun flowers, strawberries, tomatoes and cornstalks tall enough to disappear in. Although the pea patch is open to the public, it remains a quiet suburban oasis. Close your eyes. All you hear is the rustle of sunflower leaves, the distant hum of a bumble bee.
And that’s just the way gardener Paul Smith likes it.
A straw hat pulled low over his sun-burnt face, Smith crouches over a tangled patch of raspberries.
“Weeding, not gardening. That’s what we spend most our time at,” he mumbles toward the earth. “I’ve got two plots — squash, zucchini, green beans, tomatoes — and that’s enough to take care of. The weeds, they’re the ones that grow.”
Smith has been visiting the pea patch for more years than he can count. “At least 30,” he reckons. A resident of Mercer Island since 1961, Smith has seen gardeners come and go.
“There’s a bench over there in memory of Ed Verling. He passed away last year. We used to chaperone together for a high-school ski group. He was a friend of mine — had a nice garden too.”
Now Verling’s plot is being cared for by new hands, thumbs plenty green.
In its 30-plus years, the pea patch has served as a suburban oasis for Islanders. The CCMV offers gardeners 400 square feet of soil for $40 a month. Members can visit their patch at any time and plant whatever they fancy, as long as they don’t breach pea patch rules.
“Please respect our garden,” a hand-painted sign reads at the entrance. In return, the Community Center keeps up the land, watering and fertilizing the soil regularly.
According to Smith, nearly half of the gardeners come every day. Smith comes as often as he can.
“My wife complains that I spend too much time down here,” the man says with a smile. “But there’s lots to do. Some people give up their plots; if you don’t start working quick the weeds will take over.”
The most impressive garden, according to Smith, is Bill Rogers’.
“He grows flowers for the Presbyterian Church. He’s been here for six years and already has four or five plots.”
And you can’t ignore Rogers’ towering corn stalks.
“That corn is fabulous,” Smith says. “He puts a lot of nitrogen into the soil and he’s a good gardener. I’m from Illinois, where they grow corn, so I know.”
But personally, the Illinois native prefers raspberries over corn.
“These little raspberries are my favorite. My wife’s got her flowers at home and I’ve got my raspberries here,” Smith says. And so he weeds on, carefully tilting each berry to the sun as he goes.