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Washington Voices

Couple’s garden beloved by children and birds alike

Thu., Sept. 6, 2012

Nine years ago when Mary Ann and Ken Corman built their house on Five Mile Prairie, their “garden” was nothing more than a weedy field that cleverly hid a lot of large rocks. After they realized they couldn’t dig them out, they decided the best strategy would be to bury them under 500 cubic yards of topsoil.

It took a lot of work to reshape the land and then build their garden into a magical play space for grandchildren and the neighborhood birds. But their efforts won them the August Garden of the Month from the Inland Empire Gardeners, as well as a place on the 2013 Spokane in Bloom tour next June.

Ken Corman is the garden designer and chief builder, while Mary Ann Corman grows most of their annuals from seed and then cares for the garden. Together they have created an amazing mixed garden that blends colorful annuals with fruit trees, conifers, prairie wildflowers, day lilies, blackberries, raspberries and vegetables. “Weeding is such good therapy,” Mary Ann Corman said. “The day just flies by.”

They created the bones of the garden by first planting a wide variety of trees including peach, nectarine, alpine fir, blue spruce, concolor fir, Korean fir, Canadian red cherry, golden rain, willow and weeping cherries. Ken Corman then laid out paths throughout the garden that take you on a winding adventure. You never know quite what you will find around the next corner or behind one of the conifers. Mary Ann Corman said their grandchildren love to wander the paths looking for things to eat or places to play. “Many mud pies have been created here,” she said. To enhance the garden and give them a place to relax after weeding, Ken recently built a comfortable gazebo where they spend a lot of time on warm evenings.

Mary Ann Corman grows most of the colorful annuals from seed in her basement greenhouse. Last year she grew 44 flats of zinnia, snapdragons and wave petunias and wintered over dahlia tubers and red geraniums. “The geraniums are three years old now,” she said. “I repot them every fall and water them once in awhile through the winter before giving them fertilizer in March to start them off for the spring.” She also loves wildflowers and has planted drifts of black-eyed Susans and daisies. To help them spread, Ken Corman mows the dry stalks down with the lawn mower every fall to scatter the seed. They have planted a number of roses throughout the garden and now that the weather has cooled, they were getting ready for their last flush of flowers for the year.

Not only do the grandchildren love the garden, the birds love to come and hunt for seeds, get a drink from the many small water features Ken Corman has built or nest in the evergreens. It isn’t uncommon to see robins, quail, yellow warble, hummingbirds and sparrows flitting around through the day.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at

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