SEQUIM — For more than nine years, Liz Harper has helped cultivate the Community Organic Gardens of Sequim.
She and dozens of other gardeners have relied solely on soil, compost and other natural additives to promote plant health and growth in the garden’s 30-plus plots and seven raised beds behind St. Luke’s Episcopal Church at 525 N. Fifth Ave. They continue to grow everything from sunflowers to vegetables in a 75-foot-by-150-foot field south of the playground.
But this season was Harper’s last as she prepares to move to Durango, Colo., for drier conditions to help her arthritis.
“I think it’s been successful,” she said while sitting at a picnic table under some grapevines.
“The best part of the garden is that everyone has found a niche, whether it’s composting or sending out emails or growing flowers. People have found a place here.”
She’s been with the garden since nearly the beginning after students with the Sequim High School Ecology Club brainstormed the idea for a community organic garden; they had determined that saving farmland in the area was too costly as a project.
Garden co-founder Bob Caldwell said Friends of the Fields still wanted to be involved, and through many people’s efforts, including Harper’s, they helped the garden to grow.
“[Harper] was the driving force once the garden was done,” Caldwell said.
She served in many roles ranging from checking in new gardeners to coordinating training to encouraging others to keep their plots up, Caldwell said.
“It was a very gratifying experience working with her,” said Pam Larsen, another founder of the garden. “It’s a huge loss for the garden. It took two pages to write down and distribute her duties.”
Caldwell said the garden will continue with the garden’s executive committee taking on Harper’s roles.
“We think we can continue as strong, as successfully as we have in the past,” he said. “We will miss her, but we expect to keep going with this fine community asset.”
Harper said her husband read an announcement in the newspaper about the garden forming more than 10 years ago. He told her about it because she was looking for a way to become involved in the community outside of her expertise as a retired counselor/mediator.
“I wanted to use different skills and I loved gardening,” she said.
“[The founders] spent about a year looking for a space, figuring out who we are and how to get the community involved.”
St. Luke’s continues to lease the land to the garden for $1 a year, organizers said.
Over the years, Harper said, everyone involved has been cooperative with one another over potential issues for the good of the garden.
“We’ve been able to talk through issues,” she said. “It feels good to me that it functions on such a level of compromise.”
Despite not looking to do mediation work, Harper said she found herself working in some capacity leading those discussions.
“People always do their community hours [a responsibility of a plot holder], which keeps it looking good,” she said. “There’s no convincing or cajoling. They just do it. They genuinely want to be there. It’s a true community garden.”
Gardeners pulled together this year too after the garden’s shed was found burglarized.
“I cried thinking someone would violate us like that,” Harper said.
However, one of the gardener’s husbands and Caldwell worked to repair it stronger than before.
“[Our garden] looks like people here care for it deeply,” she said. “I’m proud to be part of something like this.”
Members of the Community Organic Gardens of Sequim held a goodbye party for Harper on Sept. 9.
Along with gardening, Harper has been an active member of the Blue Whole Gallery.
Harper said once in Colorado, she’s planning to have a studio built to continue her art.
In Sequim, the gardens, which includes the city of Sequim’s June Robinson Memorial Park garden, at the corner of Spruce Street and Sunnyside Avenue, will host an orientation training session for new gardeners in March, and plot holders typically begin planting again in April.
The annual cost for an annual spot is $45 for a 10-foot-by-10-foot plot or a raised bed, a daylong organic gardening class as well as water, seeds and compost for the season.
For more information, visit www.sequimcogs.org.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].