The bountiful deck garden

Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

It's only the second gardening season for Pam MacLeod in her Bellevue home, but she has grown more veggies and flowers on her deck garden than many folks have grown in a decade.

The gardening effort really is a family affair, the up-down duplex shared by her son and his family upstairs and Pam living on the first level, keeper of the dogs, on-call babysitter, and chief garden caretaker, although, as daughter-in-law Becca says, "We do everything collectively."

"Everything" refers to cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, corn, string beans, potatoes, and a variety of herbs, with the vegetables accented by hibiscus, pansies, geraniums and an array of houseplants set out for the summer. Several Boston ferns hang from a porch ceiling that covers part of the deck, with jade and philodendron thriving, some in shade, some in full sun.

The porch-deck doubles as a play area for the grandsons who occasionally help Pam -- sort of.

"Some things have grown where we haven't expected them," Pam said, explaining that the boys sometimes just poke holes in the soil and plant while she is transplanting or seeding.

"Sometimes they just do that on their own. That's when we eventually get surprises."

Many of her vegetables are grown from seed, a gardening habit she has practiced all her life.

"The string beans, grape tomatoes and Cajun tomatoes are from seeds I picked up when I was living in New Orleans. Same with the hot banana, Cajun and jalapeno peppers."

But it isn't just the veggies that make it to Pam's table.

"Pansies are edible. I use them to decorate cheesecakes and cookies. Some colors have different tastes. I plan to use purple for a cheesecake I'll be making this week."

She also uses geraniums and roses for decorating her home-baked desserts, and she highly recommends adding leaves of the hibiscus flower to flavor tea.

Providing a unique touch to the garden is a pirate ship of sorts, moored in the front yard.

"We saw the boat on Craigslist. It had been used as a parade float, and it was being given away. The idea just popped out: 'What if we used it to plant vegetables?'" Pam explained.

Her son hauled it home, set it up on the front lawn, filled it with soil, planted squash and corn, and it became their own variation of square-foot gardening.

Pam explained that part of the reason why she does the gardening is because she wants her grandsons to watch her and to learn the process. "It's good for children to see that they can grow things that are good for them and that they can enjoy," she said.

A deck garden has a few limitations, compared to an in-ground garden, but there also can be some benefits. Most gardeners explain how there are fewer weeds and better control of planting soil with container gardening. Pam, however, is quick to provide her number-one reason:

"No snakes! Snakes have always been an issue with me," she declared without hesitation.

And she answered with a smile when asked why she devotes so much time and effort to her garden.

"Nobody listens to me. That's why I like my plants."

She added with a more serious tone, "I get peace from it and a sense of accomplishment, knowing I'm able to grow things that are good for my family and friends."

Peace and a strong feeling of contentment.

"Sometimes at three or four in the morning, I get up to leave the dogs out and after they run around a little, they hop up here with me on the porch swing and we just have some quiet time."

Her contentment moments include plans for the garden's future. "I just planted more beans and some lemon seeds, and I'm planning to get more containers for next year."

Sign of the true gardener: Planning next year's before this year's has reached its peak.


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