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Monday, December 5, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ailing gardener's gift takes root at art colony

Seattle Times staff reporter

Patricia Ledesma left her Bellevue house and garden in September, a sudden departure forced by a scary diagnosis: ovarian cancer.

Rakes and spades hang from a rack in the backyard. Summer's garden knick-knacks — terra cotta steppingstones and frogs, a turtle with a broken tail, wire bunnies and chicks — are still tangled in the dormant plants.

Ledesma, 72, may be dying. She now lives in a group home or in hospice care, depending on her strength. After a decade of work on the huge garden that surrounds her Bellevue home, Ledesma sold the house this fall. Then she did what her son said he's learned to expect from his mother and her generous spirit: She made plans to give away her garden.

Sunday, a group of artists from the Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts in Pioneer Square brought shovels and plastic pots to Ledesma's home and accepted the donation, plant by plant. As Ledesma's son, Dan Ledesma, stood by, sometimes pitching in or identifying plants, they unearthed a truckful of rhododendrons, irises, an apple tree and various garden ornaments. The artists are relocating the plants to their fourth-floor deck. In that way, they said, Patricia Ledesma's life can give them life, inspire them in their work, give them a place to think and meet and be inspired.

"I think it's a great way to pass on her legacy to the building," said Antony DeGennaro, a guitarist who lives at Tashiro Kaplan. "It's almost a spiritual thing, in a way."

Artspace Projects of Minneapolis and the Pioneer Square Community Association developed the $16.5 million affordable-housing artists' colony, which opened in the summer of 2004.

The arrangement with the artists saves her garden from almost certain demolition. The buyers of Patricia Ledesma's small house plan to tear it down and build a new one in its place, Dan Ledesma said.

As artists turned the bed of his mother's favorite irises into dirt and carried away her stick-straight Colonnade apple trees, Dan Ledesma said the day was bittersweet.

"It's good to see them being used, but it's very sad to have it done in this kind of situation, obviously," he said.

A gardener himself, Dan Ledesma has a Bellevue garden filled with plants started with cuttings from his mother's plants. His father passed away and his brother lost contact with the family a decade ago, so mother and son have a close relationship, grafted together by their love of gardening.

"For the past decade, her life had been almost entirely this garden, her dogs and her cats," he said. "Both my mother and me, we were hoping that we'd do something with this."

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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