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Willowpond specializes in pottery, herbs on Green Bluff

Cynthia and Kurt Crist, owners of Willowpond Pottery & Herbs, at Green Bluff, sell handcrafted pottery and garden-fresh herbs. (Colin Mulvany)
Cynthia and Kurt Crist, owners of Willowpond Pottery & Herbs, at Green Bluff, sell handcrafted pottery and garden-fresh herbs. (Colin Mulvany)

As Green Bluff farms open for the U-pick season, a newer destination on the route mixes garden-fresh herbs with handcrafted pottery.

After a short debut last year, Willowpond Pottery & Herbs opened Saturday at 16230 N. Day-Mt. Spokane Road in Mead.

Willowpond is owned by the husband-wife team of Kurt and Cynthia Crist. The couple tell visitors that a clear delineation happens at the doorstep of their rustic barn that serves as a shop and art studio.

Cynthia Crist, a longtime pottery artist, is the purveyor of the crafty elements under the roof. Outside a few steps from the door, Kurt Crist will tell people the best way to use lemon thyme in a chicken dish.

“We looked for a niche,” Kurt Crist said. “Here in Green Bluff, you have fruits and vegetables, but we couldn’t find culinary herbs. It’s also all about enjoying people who visit and sharing what we love.”

Willowpond sells basil, parsley, dill, cilantro, fennel and other herbs freshly picked for customers. It also has three varieties of leeks, and specialty pumpkins in the fall. Cynthia Crist’s artisan plates, bowls, pots and other pottery items are displayed in the store.

The interior has a large display window to peer into Cynthia Crist’s studio in a back room as she forms the pottery. Pieces are lead-free, safe for the oven and dishwasher, and sell for $25 to $45, depending on size.

“To see the process of making pottery, to me that is what’s exciting for people.” Cynthia Crist said. “All the pieces I make are functional. I use the wheel and do some slab work.”

The couple remodeled Willowpond’s main structure, adding onto an existing pole barn by using old wood panels, door frames and other material from a decaying 100-year-old barn they bought from a former apple farm in Spokane Valley.

The couple spent about three months cleaning the hauled wood and pulling nails. They hired Matt Coffey of Coffey Construction Inc. to meld the two structures.

“I wanted it to have an atrium feel,” Cynthia Crist said. They repurposed other pieces. A heavy door once at a downtown Spokane business is now a sales countertop. A plumber converted an antique stove from the Valley barn into a hand-washing station in her studio.

In 2011, the couple relocated to Green Bluff after living 20 years in Alaska. Kurt Crist filled a federal job in Spokane in fall 2010 and arrived first. Cynthia Crist followed after their Anchorage home sold. They had long considered a move as empty-nesters, and they liked the Spokane area.

“Even as far away as Alaska, I had heard of Green Bluff from friends,” Kurt Crist said.

Kurt Crist, who still works in Spokane, takes weekend guests on a tasting tour and plucks off herbs for sampling, as he describes ways to use the fresh ingredients in meals.

Within the herb garden on about three-fourths of an acre, Kurt Crist said he uses organic gardening techniques. Composting takes the place of fertilizer. Straw keeps moisture in the soil and discourages weeds.

Among several basil varieties, he grows Genovese basil, which has a higher oil content for flavor and aroma, he said. Cilantro and basil are the two most in-demand herbs, he said, but dill is popular in the fall.

Willowpond’s herbs typically sell at $3.50 for a large bunch stuffed into a quart-sized bag. Willowpond also sells eggs and repurposed farm furniture. By fall, an “ugly pumpkin patch” will offer varieties that are warty, flat, blue and white.

To promote the use of herbs at Willowpond, the couple offer recipes and tips. Kurt Crist also tells visitors about herbs’ health benefits. “Fresh basil will help counteract heartburn. Herbs are ancient. They’ve been around for a reason.”

Cynthia Crist works year-round in the studio, and she offers some pottery classes. Around late October, the herb garden closes, but the store remains open and pottery sales go until Christmas.

Her mother Peg Stevens, who lives with them, previously had a large pottery studio and school in Alaska where Cynthia honed her skills. They asked Stevens to name the new business, and she thought up Willowpond. “We immediately had to go buy a willow tree,” Cynthia Crist said.

For the record, the tree is now growing strong near the property’s pond.