Garden of Month honoree has a whimsical touch

Bob Carnell enjoys the late afternoon sun on his patio surrounded by whimsical art and colorful plants.  (Pat Munts)
Bob Carnell enjoys the late afternoon sun on his patio surrounded by whimsical art and colorful plants. (Pat Munts)

Exploration is part of the art of gardening. As gardeners, we all know something about the science of growing plants; blending a plant with the right conditions. Pushing those boundaries and bending and breaking the “rules” to explore new ideas is the art of gardening.

Bob Carnell does a lot of exploring in his small garden on the bluff overlooking Doomsday Hill. Disasters like losing a bunch of trees to utility pruning only served as a challenge to try something new. His efforts won him the August Garden of the Month award from the Inland Empire Gardeners.

Carnell has been gardening in his yard since he bought his house in 1979. His small house dates from the building boom in the neighborhood after World War II and its architecture adds to the quirkiest of his garden. His location gets a lot of late afternoon sun and seems to be in a warm pocket that allows him to grow a few things you wouldn’t expect.

His front yard is simple with some interesting tall evergreen topiaries that give a playful hint to what is in the backyard.

The backyard is where Carnell’s bent for whimsically mixing art with plants really comes into play. On first walking into the space you are met with an area of lawn and a concrete retaining wall. At the base of the wall he has set four decorative but ordinary concrete blocks that add simple but effective interest to the space.

Along the west edge of his yard, he has planted a number of vines to serve as a break with his neighbor and to take advantage of the sun. A grape is trained over a large hoop trellis that serves as the main entrance to the backyard. Further down the row is one of the healthiest wisterias I have ever seen in Spokane. Under it is a small bench that allows views of the yard and in the distance the Fort Wright area.

The back edge of the garden is an experiment in positive thinking. The trees he originally planted began to grow into power lines and were removed. So he simply replanted with lower growing shrubs and ornamental grasses.

The pièce de résistance in Carnell’s garden is the patio he has tucked in around several trees. Using found things like stone; large, round corrugated metal troughs; bowling balls and scrap metal structures and a wild collection of perennials; edible plants; roses and shrubs he has created an exciting space full of discovery – you never know what plants or bowling ball creature you’ll find around the next corner. The metal rings are full of vegetables and at the time of my visit, the squash were beginning to crawl out of their space and take over.

In the spaces between the found stones of the patio, Carnell has made bricks with the names of family and friends and words of inspiration that make the walk a reminder of who and what is important in his life.

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

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