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Couple carve colorful oasis on the West Plains

Sun., July 26, 2009

When many people think of Spokane’s West Plains, they don’t usually think about beautiful gardens. They are more likely to think of wide open grassy plains cut by scabland rock outcrops, dotted with a few pine trees. And wind – lots of wind.

Donna and John Phillips will show you something completely different if you find your way to their home just off Trails Road. Instead of bemoaning the rock and the elements, these intrepid gardeners have used creativity, sweat and sheer spunk to create a unique garden that won them the June Garden of the Month contest of The Inland Empire Gardeners.

The Phillipses’ garden begins at their gate, where bird houses on fence posts attract the bluebirds that live in the grassy meadows around them. Closer to the house, Donna has placed yard art created from “stuff” that came her way. Her newest mobile is an assortment of old car parts. A “tree” of bright blue wine bottles stands near their greenhouse along the driveway.

The house is situated on the side of a basalt knob and shaded by pine trees. The landscaping in the front yard frames the view of the fields from a large deck, where the Phillipses say they spend many evenings. Alongside the house is a spot where their collection of Christmas cacti and orchids spend the summer.

In a sunny area below the house, fenced to keep the deer out, the Phillipses maintain a half-acre vegetable garden and orchard. Apple and peach trees provide fruit in the summer and fall. The raspberries and blackberries they can’t eat fresh are turned into jam. This year they will make salsa and tomato sauce, so two dozen tomato plants grow among herbs, greens, peppers and squash.

Behind the house is their show garden. Where the front garden conceded to the natural scenery and elements, their back garden takes the rocks and pines head on. A narrow lawn filled with a wide selection of perennials and small shrubs frames the view from the house of rock terraces carved out of the basalt. Dark orange tiger lilies are a perfect foil for several blue-flowering perennials. In drier parts of the terraces, the Phillipses have planted drought-tolerant natives including Tweedy’s lewisia that seemingly grow right out of the rock. Linda has filled an old bed frame with pansies and violets to make – what else? – a flower bed.

In another celebration of rock, the Phillipses built a waterfall that flows over the terraces. It adds the perfect bit of water music to the garden and provides the local critters a place to drink and bathe. Bird feeders are scattered around the garden to feed quail and other birds. The Phillipses coexist with the deer by fencing only those parts of the garden that really need it.

Want your garden considered for Garden of the Month? The final contest of the summer closes Aug. 15. Applications can be picked up at Northwest Seed and Pet or at

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening .com.

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