Janice Sather was a frustrated gardener while living in Alaska. The short growing season and temperature extremes made it awfully hard to pursue her love of plants.
When she and her husband, Curt, moved to the Painted Hills area of Spokane Valley in 2007, she traded that frustration for a new challenge:
How do you create a pleasing landscape on a barren, sloping three-quarter-acre lot that has rocky soil and is frequented by deer?
“We basically started with nothing,” Sather said. “There were ponderosa pines, grass and weeds in our backyard and that was it.”
She had a few ideas about how she wanted the yard to look but knew she needed some help. That came from Nate Lynch, owner of Special Additions Landscaping, who was referred by a local nursery. He put in a rock staircase, paver sidewalk and rock walls, which provided the structure she needed. He also installed the rock features needed for an attractive waterfall that cascades into pools of water.
Other help has come from Sather’s brother, who built a deck, and her husband, who is a welder. He made a 7-foot-tall steel fence to enclose their front yard and many sturdy plant supports. And the three of them teamed up to make a few raised beds.
Sather became a Spokane County Master Gardener three years ago and has used a lot of that knowledge when choosing plants for her garden.
“I was so excited to be in Spokane because it has a lot longer growing season than Alaska,” she said. “I’ve tried just about everything I could get my hands on but have focused on native and drought-tolerant plants because I don’t have an established irrigation system in the back.”
She has planted a wide variety of drought-tolerant plants that includes hummingbird mint (Agastache), beardtongue (penstemon), mock orange (Philadelphus), ocean spray (holodiscus discolor), oakleaf sumac (Rhus trilobata), spirea and yarrow.
Then there is the problem of deer, which come freely into the unfenced backyard.
“I have a lot of deer, so that’s been a learning experience through a lot of trial and error,” Sather said. “I’ve done pretty well finding a lot of plants that are both drought-tolerant and that the deer won’t bother.”
The deer have primarily nibbled on the shrubs, so she has put wire cages around them to help them become established. The only shrub the deer have left alone is an oakleaf sumac.
The plants they haven’t bothered at all include those in the sage (salvia) family, stonecrop (sedum), Apache plume (fallugia paradoxa), globe mallow (sphaeralcea), buffaloberry (shepherdia rotundifolia), catmint (nepeta), rabbitbrush (chrysothamnus nauseosus) and skullcap (scutilleria), which is a groundcover.
Despite the deer problems, she has intentionally planted for wildlife. Sather has put in plants that provide nectar and cover for different animals to enjoy. Hummingbirds apparently appreciate those efforts.
“I have more hummingbirds this year than ever,” she said. “They’re constantly around and even land on me. I think I must have the happiest hummingbirds in all of Spokane.”
Her main sources for native and drought-tolerant plants are Desert Jewels Nursery in Spokane, Plants of the Wild in Tekoa, Wash., and The Friends of Manito plant sales.
Sather has sage advice for others with challenging landscapes:
“Work with what you have. If you think this is the type of landscape you might want, be patient because native plants take time to get established,” she said.