Neighborhood works on its own field of dreams

POULSBO — A couple of fallow lots in the Austurbruin neighborhood might look like areas of little potential to an outside observer.

POULSBO — A couple of fallow lots in the Austurbruin neighborhood might look like areas of little potential to an outside observer.

But a group of neighbors looks at the same spaces and see a beautiful community garden brimming with fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Of course, at the moment, it’s just a plan in the works.

“All these things you have to sort of picture in your mind’s eye what it’s going to look like,” neighbor Kathryn Owen said enthusiastically, pointing at an empty piece of land.

The 5-year-old Austurbruin neighborhood is now entering its second spring and summer seasons of planned community plantings and green space development. On a recent Saturday morning, neighbors began work on their most ambitious project to date — a garden space.

Armed with a sketch of how the garden should be laid out, shovels, hoes and even a pickax, neighbors got to work plotting out and laying the foundation for what will eventually become paths between four different planting beds.

And while the work is slow moving, neighbor Erin Herndon said folks don’t seem to mind. In fact, getting their hands dirty is something these residents have come to enjoy, as it was their own sweat that helped build the neighborhood.

Austurbruin is an award-winning example of the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority’s Mutual Self-Help housing area. The program gives first-time home buyers with a household income at or less than 80 percent of the county median the chance for low-interest home loans. Participation in the program includes the requirement for individuals to work about 30 hours a week for between 10 and 12 months helping build their own home and neighbors’ homes.

“Since we all built our houses at the same time it kind of gave us some pride and a feeling of ownership of this neighborhood,” Herndon said of the group’s motivation.

The bulk of the group’s work has centered around green spaces in the neighborhood that are owned by the City of Poulsbo. The plots of land are located along Curt Rudolph Road leading into Austurbruin and have primarily been untouched during the life of the neighborhood. Trees were originally planted there by a developer, but were recently removed with the blessing of city arborist Kevin McFarland when it was discovered they were dying and had been planted incorrectly.

Other than that, the sites were mainly dormant grounds that homeowners felt were an eyesore in the neighborhood they worked so hard to create.

“(The city) just had time to weed whack and barely at that,” remembered neighbor Greg Relaford.

“They’re just so inundated with land to take care of,” added Herndon of the city’s predicament.

For a handful of ecologically-minded neighbors, the areas also represented a chance to help the environment. Plantings have been carefully planned to accentuate the flora already in the area (such as the recent addition of a butterfly bush), while helping reduce stormwater runoff through the addition of more native vegetation.

“Stormwater runoff here goes to Dogfish Creek and then to Liberty Bay, so all the way up here the water that runs off eventually ends up in Liberty Bay,” Owen said.

So the Austurbruin Homeowner’s Association struck a unique deal with the City of Poulsbo to care for the land in exchange for as much support as the city was able to give. Last year, city council members and city staff participated in an Arbor Day event the neighborhood hosted, and the Poulsbo Tree Board even donated trees to be planted for the occasion. Most recently, city crews laid water pipes to the city-owned land inside Austurbruin to help neighbors maintain their plantings.

“We used to have to carry buckets of water over from our houses,” Herndon recalled.

With a couple of plantings and landscaping projects under their belts, neighbors felt they were finally ready to tackle their community garden dream. A square-shaped plot of city-owned land will become that garden, which will be designed with the needs of young children, elderly and handicapped users in mind.

So far, beach strawberries and two types of blueberry bushes have been planted, and a host of donated trees and plants await their home in the space.

Herndon said the garden, which will take shape over the coming months, relies on two things — sweat from neighbors and donations.

Many trees have been donated by Kitsap Trees and local coffee companies have been generous with chaff (which can be used as a soil amendment) and burlap sacks (which are an excellent weed barrier for paths).

Master Gardener Peg Tillery has offered professional advice and her sister City Councilwoman Jackie Aitchison has lent a hand and a rototiller to the project.

To make the community garden a reality, residents are also hoping for help from some other sources as well. Among their wishes for the current project are seeds and starter plants for sunflowers, strawberries, perennials, herbs and vegetables, as well as dirt, bark, path gravel and gardening tools.

And of course they’re always looking for busy hands.

Herndon is known for greeting both new neighbors and anyone else with a, “So, do you like to garden?” — And an invitation to come to the next Saturday work party.

They’ll take anyone who wants to work, and they’re hoping that the idea takes off with other neighborhoods as well.

“It’s neat to be able to do something like this,” Owen commented.