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Cultivating friendships

Fri., Sept. 5, 2008

Community gardens offer much more than veggies

It’s amazing what four like-minded families can accomplish in their neighborhood when they work together.

Not only did they create their own organic community garden packed with vegetables and flowers, but they also nurtured friendships with their neighbors.

Located at 1526 S. Ash St., on Spokane’s South Hill, the Ash Street Community Sunshine Garden is one of 10 community gardens that will welcome visitors from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday in Spokane’s second annual Community Garden Tour. The tour is free to the public.

The Ash Street Community Sunshine Garden is the result of the collaboration between Ryan and Joanie Montgomery – who own the vacant lot next to their home – and their neighbors Julie Henry and Kathleen Henry; Wanda and Steve Daehlin; and Bonne Beavers and R.J. Nelson.

While on a trip through California’s Napa Valley, the Montgomerys saw a beautiful, productive garden they wanted to replicate at home. When they returned from their trip, they discovered their neighbors had all been talking about putting together a community garden.

“It turns out we were all on the same wavelength,” Julie Henry said.

“It was meant to be,” Joanie Montgomery said. “It just happened like clockwork. We cut out the sod and gave it to Wanda and Steve, who needed some for a landscaping project. We tried not to waste anything and we all worked together. R.J. did the rototilling, and we all picked up rocks.”

A couple of the neighbors loaded up their trucks with aged horse manure and added it to the future garden spot. Then they brought in organic soil and tilled it several times.

The garden is about 1,800 square feet, divided among the four families. Everyone chose what they wanted to grow. This is the Montgomerys’ first vegetable garden, but their section of the garden has flourished “thanks to a lot of expertise that has come from our neighbors,” Montgomery said. “All of us are growing flowers in addition to the vegetables because we wanted the garden to be fun and pretty.”

Ryan Montgomery ran all the irrigation lines and calculated how much water pressure they would need. He set up a drip irrigation system to conserve water.

Even though they had a late start in mid-June, the garden is prolific and healthy. Visitors will see a productive garden full of tomatoes, leeks, Brussels sprouts, peppers, squash, beets, carrots, herbs, corn, eggplants and colorful flowers.

The most unusual crops are artichokes and okra. Julie Henry, originally from North Carolina, said she really wanted to plant okra but was told it couldn’t be grown here. She finally found okra seedlings at a local nursery, and the plants are thriving in the garden and producing enough okra to satisfy her cravings. The garden has attracted the attention of passersby.

“There are people who walk by every day and just stand in front of the garden in amazement,” Henry said.

“Every evening, we gather together to watch the garden grow,” Montgomery added. “I did this garden for a selfish reason: I wanted to get to know my neighbors,” something she feels she’s never had the time to do in the past.

The neighbors all agree that the best aspects of this garden are the friendships they’ve developed, the fun everyone has had working together and the sense of community they’ve gained. It is likely the garden will be expanded next year because a few neighbors have expressed an interest in joining the project.

They have this advice for others who are considering starting up their own community garden: “Work together with your neighbors and it will be much less work,” Kathleen Henry said. Julie Henry added, “Don’t do too much the first year so you won’t get discouraged.” Montgomery said, “Everyone has something different to offer for a garden like this. Go for it!”

The tour is sponsored by Spokane Community Gardens, Spokane Regional Health District and WSU Spokane County Extension. Those interested in attending the tour can download a map of the community garden locations at Each garden will have representatives available to talk about how their garden is set up, and several gardens will have special events running in conjunction with the tour.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via e-mail at


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