Gazing to distant shores, a multi-cultural garden on a terraced hillside
Hovering above downtown Seattle’s Chinatown/International District, the Danny Woo Community Garden and Orchard is a multi-cultural, multi-generational gathering space. Here youth and elders connect to the land and to each other. Surrounded by apartment buildings housing low income seniors, the 1.5 acre garden is the district’s largest green space. Elderly gardeners, many of them immigrants from Asia who do not speak English, both teach and learn from the young people participating in Danny Woo’s Children’s Garden Educational Program. Located at Maynard Avenue S. and S. Main Street, the steeply terraced site hosts nearly 100 garden plots and more than 60 mature fruit trees. In this shared garden, food and culture intersect. Kneeling down to weed garden plots filled with bok choy, bittermelon, daikon, and watercress, elder immigrant gardeners find a sanctuary among the crops and flowers that connect them with their countries of origin.
History: A green Tribute to Asian Origins
In 1975 activists led by the nonprofit InterIm Community Development Authority (CDA) negotiated with local landowner and community leader Danny Woo to convert some of his International District property into a community space for neighborhood residents. With facilitation from “Uncle” Bob Santos, a private-public partnership ultimately combined Danny Woo’s property and a city-owned park, Kobe Terrace, into the Danny Woo International District Community Garden. InterIm CDA assumed management of the garden. The garden, adjacent apartments and nearby businesses are uniquely tied to the history of early Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean and other Asian and Pacific Islander settlers. Continuing this legacy, a Children’s Garden was created in 2008 to pass on gardening knowledge from the elders who tend the garden plots to younger generations.
Trees & Site: Bountiful Fruit Surrounding a Thriving Community Garden
The Danny Woo Community Garden hangs on a hillside in the International District just below I-5 and a block uphill from the busy shops of Jackson Street. The Smith Tower looms above, its pyramidal top watching over the garden’s patchwork of fruit and vegetable plots. Not a square inch of the south-facing terraced land sits unused. Danny Woo Garden also boasts a playful children’s garden, a chicken coop, and outdoor kitchen, and a bountiful fruit orchard. All these serve low- to middle- income families, largely from neighboring buildings. Re-purposed and creative materials sprout up everywhere, forming ingenious constructions that give each plot a unique personality. The grandeur of the many mature fruit trees can be overlooked as chickens, children, cooking and other activities compete for attention at ground level. But an upward glance reveals an orchard of noble fruit trees that have graced the land for decades.
Danny Woo Orchard hosts 61 mature fruit trees, mostly Asian pears and apples, plus three cherries, one plum, and one fig tree. A sturdy row of large Asian pear trees stands at attention on a high southeast shelf. In the center of the garden, small peach, plum, fig, apple, and pear trees are espaliered along a wire fence. Closer to the ground you may also catch sight of salmonberry, raspberry, strawberry, grape and thimbleberry plants.
Orchard Restoration & Development: Commitment to Healthy Fruit & Community
In its early years, the Danny Woo Orchard was tended by volunteers from other Seattle orchards. But in 2014 volunteers at Danny Woo were trained in an onsite pruning workshop to take over these orchard stewardship tasks. At the workshop these new recruits judiciously pruned a large apple tree to allow more sun to reach lower terrace garden plots. Many other hands have also helped shape this garden and orchard. Service learning volunteers from Seattle University and the University of Washington periodically serve as children’s garden educators and stewards, clearing away fallen debris, establishing pathways, and cleaning the chicken coop.
The Danny Woo Orchard has also hosted a Plant Amnesty’s Fruit Tree Pruning Field Day filled with pruning lectures and demonstrations. Seattle Parks provides ongoing support with wood chips for mulch around the trees and pickup of pruning brush.
The Spring of 2014 saw the completion of an outdoor cookery where gardeners can cook a meal or snack and enjoy it with each other. This project, designed and constructed with the aid of faculty and students from the UW’s Department of Architecture, received a grant from the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.
City Fruit’s orchard steward program is working with InterIm CDA staff to establish an orchard management plan for the next few years. Among the activities anticipated are:
- Another pruning workshop with interpreters for the resident gardeners
- Ongoing orchard maintenance, such as mulching, thinning and pest management
- Relocation of the espaliered trees to where they’re less likely to shade nearby garden plots
- Summer and fall harvests of fruit for local elders
- Annual Fall Harvest Festival
In past years, the Fall Harvest Festival featured freshly pressed apple cider and a live Cajun band that performed before the garden’s curvy wooden bleachers. The “Iron Chef” competition at this event required all culinary entries to include orchard-grown Asian pears. Look forward to a return of the Harvest Festival in October!
1. Danny Woo was a Chinese American businessman and property owner in the International District. The property where the Danny Woo Garden sits is leased to InterIm for $1.00 a year, an arrangement that began in the early 1970s. While Mr. Woo has passed away, the arrangement continues with his children.
2. Respecting the needs and demographics of the neighborhood, garden plots are allocated by preference to those aged over 65, residents of the International District and those whose income is below 30% of the median.
3. In 2009 a state-of-the-art chicken coop was constructed in the Danny Woo Community Garden. In 2010, 14 chicks made this coop their home and more have followed over the years. The chickens draw children to the garden, enhancing the multigenerational emphasis of this community garden. As they interact with and care for the chickens, these children, who might otherwise never have access to a farm, learn about farm animals and come to understand the origins of the food on their tables.