A horticultural heaven

Don and Barb Cagle enjoy a moment in their garden after a summer of work. They have spent 11 years building their garden and relishing in the plant choices after 20 years in Fairbanks, Alaska. (PAT MUNTS)
Don and Barb Cagle enjoy a moment in their garden after a summer of work. They have spent 11 years building their garden and relishing in the plant choices after 20 years in Fairbanks, Alaska. (PAT MUNTS)

If you moved to the Inland Northwest from somewhere else, you know how different our climate is from other parts of the country. Many times I have heard new residents complain about not being able to grow their favorite plants or having to deal with snow once in a while. I’ve even been guilty of it a few times.

Don and Barb Cagle moved to Spokane from Fairbanks, Alaska, in 2002 after more than 20 years of dealing with moose that ate everything, winter lows of minus 40 degrees that froze what was left, and a limited number of plants that could survive under those conditions. Starting a garden in Spokane was like being dropped into horticultural heaven. They have spent the past 11 years playing with everything they couldn’t grow in Alaska, and in the process turned an acre of bare gravel and lawn in Spokane Valley east of Sullivan on Mission into a lush series of garden retreats. As a reflection of their hard work and creativity, the Cagles’ garden was awarded the August Garden of the Month by the Inland Empire Gardeners.

The previous owner’s definition of gardening was to spray a strong herbicide on the back half of the lot to control weeds and mow the lawn.

“When we realized what we had, we got a little gutsy buying plants,” Don said. Don’s job often took him to Oregon’s Willamette Valley with a truck that he used to haul back finds from the nursery mecca of the Northwest. They replaced the lawn with a series of garden rooms. When the lawn began thinning out under three corkscrew willows, they put in a shade garden. Don is the visionary of what should be and Barb is the nuts-and-bolts person who fits it together.

As they tamed the gravel, they built the Quail Run – a long walk bordered with perennials, barberries and red buds where the California quail like to scratch up bugs. The shady Wedding Corner was where Don’s sister got married. There are several island gardens anchored by spruce, firs, blue star junipers surrounded by low growing perennials. The bright yellow rudbeckia were at their peak when I was there.

Along the back fence are a number of shrubs including a black leafed elderberry. The low evening sun illuminated a row of lavender along the gravel path – evoking an image of an estate garden somewhere in Italy. Several of their small gardens are living memorials to family members; a son who died at 18 and Barb’s mother who died last year.

The Cagles make an effort to get their grandchildren interested in gardening. Their usual strategy is to let the children explore the garden and then talk to them about things that interest them. Their oldest granddaughter was interested in fairies so they helped create a fairy garden; the littlest granddaughter wanted to build a garden for the squirrels. They are still figuring out how to incorporate Legos into a garden for their grandson.

Pat Munts has gardened in Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@inland nwgardening.com.

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