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Gardening: From ‘empty slate,’ Painted Hills home’s landscape named July Garden of the Month

Carol McKenny checks out  fragrant hummingbird mint along the rock wall in her garden in Painted Hills. She won the July Garden of the Month contest. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)
Carol McKenny checks out fragrant hummingbird mint along the rock wall in her garden in Painted Hills. She won the July Garden of the Month contest. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)

As a rule, creating a beautiful garden that is also deer-resistant is one of the biggest challenges for gardeners who live in deer country. There are dozens of lists of deer-resistant plants out there but they all come with a very big caveat: They likely haven’t been approved by the herd of hooved munchers that live in your yard.

Just ask Carol and Peter McKenny. Since moving into their Painted Hills home in 2009, they have gone through more than a few deer-munching experiments as they developed their garden. After eight years of experimentation, though, they have created a small but beautiful garden filled with pollinator-friendly perennials, flowering shrubs, conifers and tough native plants. Their efforts won them the July Garden of the Month from the Inland Empire Gardeners.

When they moved in, the house was little more than a show home with some landscaping right around the front door. “It was part of a development that went bankrupt in the recession,” Carol said. “It was a pretty empty slate to start with.”

Carol was the perfect person to take it on, though. She has been a Master Gardener in New York, Wisconsin and now Washington. She has always loved flowers and gardens, so taking on a new challenge was perfect for her. “I love to learn and experiment, that’s why I became a Master Gardener.”

Their lot is perched on a slope with views of Tower Mountain. They had to build rock walls in several places including the west side of the property to create flat spots for gardens and a small lawn. Carol tamed the heat and dryness of the west-facing wall by planting dozens of drought-tolerant and deer-resistant plants. Lavender, catmint, penstemon and hummingbird mint on the wall were covered with bees and the hummingbirds were zipping between the flowers and the feeders on Carol’s deck. She gave the wall an alpine look by planting several conical Alberta spruces along the top.

On the shady sides of the house she has planted heuchera, windflowers, varieties of ornamental grasses, hydrangea, Japanese maple and a few rhododendrons that thrive in the lower light. “I’m a little surprised the deer have stayed out of the hydrangeas,” said Carol. “They aren’t really on the deer-resistant list but they seem to ignore them for now.”

The McKennys enjoy views of the garden from their deck perched above the west-facing garden. It is also where Carol grows her tomatoes and other vegetables out of the reach of the hooved munchers. Under the deck, they have created a very sheltered patio that is perfect for relaxing from the day’s heat. Several climbing vines and shrubs provide shade and keep it cool.

Carol’s next challenge is to create a native plant garden on the northside of the driveway where the thin native soil and limited water lessen her options. She has a good head start, though, with an impressive stand of Russian sage that was keeping the bees busy.

Pat Munts, of Spokane Valley, is co-author of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook” with Susan Mulvihill. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening. com.

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