HAMILTON - Patty Bush is a happy person despite her physical tribulations.
Crippled by an aneurysm at age 34, one of her legs is in a brace, one hand is crippled and she walks with the aid of a cane and usually a caregiver. But she laughs easily, and one of her joys is watching her garden grow.
Sometime Friday night, Hamilton's popular community garden was vandalized. Particularly hard-hit was the new raised bed built for the use of the handicapped. Also destroyed was the lattice gazebo, the shady place on the south margin of the property where growers and visitors sit to rest and enjoy the garden.
The vandals also stomped down plants in some of the 15-x-15-foot garden spaces rented to the elderly and to others with no place to plant a radish or petunia. Spared from the destruction were plots tended by the Mormon community to provide produce for the local food bank. Other plots had yet to be planted.
Scores of tomato and cucumber seedlings carefully planted by residents of Valley View Estates nursing home a block away were uprooted and probably will not survive.
In other plots, stakes with identifying seed packets attached were yanked up and tossed into a pile.
The community garden is popular with Hamilton residents; all the plots are already spoken for this year. Gardeners pay for most of the plots with $15, or their labor. Local service groups routinely volunteer to help aged or disabled gardeners tend their plots. Other plots provide fresh produce for the needy.
Marvin McKay, a resident of nearby Bitterroot Manor senior living center, who gardened two plots last year and has taken four this season, was irate - enough so to volunteer to stake out the garden with his little watchdog Tawny in case the vandals returned.
Officer R.E. Weber of the Hamilton Police Department said Saturday evening there were no suspects and a detective is being assigned to the case.
One of the victimized gardeners had her suspicions, though.
''I had a premonition yesterday," said Evelyn Hard, a wheelchair-bound gardener who planted the first of the handicapped beds. ''That place is really tempting to hoodlums. … This is getting to be like a big city. There is a complete lack of authoritative parental discipline. Let's face it, we are living in a sick society."
Hard had put in seeds, as well as some bedding plants. All were dug up, except for the onions. The halved milk jugs protecting her seedlings were used by the vandals to scoop out the baby radish, mustard, kale, spinach and lettuce that had just taken root. The young plants and attached topsoil had been unceremoniously dumped on the ground.
The garden's board of directors has made arrangements lighting to illuminate the grounds after dark, but it will not be installed for about a month, Montana Power Co. spokesmen said.
Incensed by the vandalism, garden co-chairmen Ileen Parsons and Molly Hackett and other Hamilton residents have started a reward fund. Parsons wants the vandals to pay for what they've done.
''I would work one-on-one or one-on-two with the persons who did this," said Parsons. ''I would work their tails off until the debt is paid. Whatever else happens, they must be supervised."
The help of anyone willing to assist gardeners in repairing their losses, either with labor of contributions, is asked to call Ileen Parsons at 363-3881.