Anyone who regularly drives south of 32nd Avenue on Sullivan knows the garden: You can’t miss Ellie Mae Holm’s blazingly bright landscape of annuals, perennials and vegetables. Several people had told me about it and sure enough, it was worth the visit. The Inland Empire Gardeners were impressed with it, too, and awarded Holm the September Garden of the Month. The garden will be in June’s Spokane in Bloom tour.
Holm grew up on a dairy farm near Spangle where her family kept a large vegetable garden. Through 4-H, she honed her skills in gardening, canning and preserving. When she retired several years ago, she knew she wanted to get back to her roots and build a homestead. Her little piece of heaven is a 1.5- acre lot surrounded by the last vestiges of farmland on South Sullivan. “I just have to be out in the garden every day,” she said. “I have to be in the dirt and I can’t live in the city.”
Holm’s yard is surrounded by a chain link fence intended to keep hungry deer at bay, but it also provides her with a place to trellis up dozens of varieties of shelling beans that she dries and uses for winter soups. She raises all of her own vegetables in dozens of raised beds, then cans, freezes or dries them for the winter. This summer it was hot enough she grew and dried peppers and made her own paprika.
Beyond the vegetable garden, Holm has planted her landscape with a backbone of shrubs, pyramidal cedars and conifers to frame her plantings of petunias, marigolds, perennials and roses. She saves seed from her heirloom plants and starts most of her own plants so she can experiment with varieties. “I always grow too much so I have a plant sale here every spring,” she said. This year the focus of her plantings was to create a space for her granddaughter’s midsummer wedding.
With the help of her handy son, Holm built a potting shed/greenhouse and a larger greenhouse to start and raise her plants each spring. She joked that the potting shed is more like a small house with its refrigerator, microwave and sink. “I could live out here.” She starts her seeds in the shed and then moves them to the greenhouse to grow out. In the winter she uses the greenhouse to overwinter some of her water lilies and tender plants.
Holm has some serious gardening challenges in her garden. The wind blows constantly, mostly from the southwest, making watering a challenge, especially in this year’s hot weather. Because her garden is young, her windbreaks haven’t grown enough to provide the relief she wants. She is also in a cold pocket and plans her garden around USDA Zone 4 plants. “I follow the Deer Park temperature forecasts rather than the Spokane’s,” she said. She had already had a hard frost when I visited her late last week.
Pat Munts is co-author, with Susan Mulvihill, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnw gardening.com.