Barbra Safranek started hauling home plants and planting them before their new house site was little more than a basalt knob with very little soil and part of a foundation on the east end of the South Hill. Five years later, Safranek’s garden is a show stopper of color, shape and interesting textures; a hidden gem that earned her the June Garden of the Month Award from the Inland Empire Gardeners.
Barbara and her husband Mark, a Spokane native, returned to the area in 2005 after many years in Santa Clara, Calif. They chose their home site for its rugged beauty and designed their modern, craftsman-influenced house and the gardens to fit the site. “I like working with nature and its elements,” said Safranek, a landscape architect. She feels that discovering a site’s natural elements and then incorporating them to make a garden come alive creates a unique space that ties the manmade garden to the native landscape close by.
The entrance to the garden is a stunning display garden of mixed perennials, shrubs and evergreens framed by the house’s bold architecture. Safranek has filled the beds with a wide range of plants chosen for their color and form. Because the site is protected and on the rock, it holds heat and she can grow a few things that wouldn’t thrive in most Spokane gardens. Safranek uses stone and large ceramic pots to anchor her plantings and create changes in elevation. The entry garden drops off to the side of the house into a cool glen of Japanese maples, hostas and draws in native shrubs like serviceberry that grow on the edge of the property.
The back gardens are framed with large picture windows from inside the house. It is only natural to walk through the house and enjoy the colorful view from a seat on the covered patio. The outer edge of the garden gets full sun and heat so Safranek has planted it with more sun and heat tolerant perennials, shrubs and evergreens. The beds close to the house are shaded much of the day and are planted to more shade tolerant plantings. Common rhubarb and lots of ligularias add bold leaf texture in several places. She has an impressive collection of Japanese maples throughout the gardens that add leafy texture in shades of green and yellow. In the fall the maples set the garden ablaze with reds, oranges and yellows.
Any garden should grow food says Safranek. But to get their vegetable garden, Safranek had to negotiate with a neighbor for some space in the only sunny space left. Unfortunately it was primarily basalt. To overcome the lack of plantable soil, Safranek hauled in straw bales to make large beds and filled them with soil right on the rock. Piles of pine needles were shaped into large nests on top of the rock, filled with compost and then planted with squash and beans. The beans and squash were thriving in the stored heat from the rock. She may be the only person in town to have squash this year.
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