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Gardening: Spangle-area gardener receives June garden of the month honor

Carolyn Nesbitt stands in her perennial garden that frames the wild landscape of the channeled scablands west of Spangle. Her garden is a testament to learning to translate gardening techniques from sunny warm Southern California to the four seasons of Spokane (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)
Carolyn Nesbitt stands in her perennial garden that frames the wild landscape of the channeled scablands west of Spangle. Her garden is a testament to learning to translate gardening techniques from sunny warm Southern California to the four seasons of Spokane (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)

Gardening learning curves can be steep when you move from Southern California’s year-round gardening season to Spokane’s four-season mishmash of microclimates. Just ask Carolyn and Monty Nesbitt when family pulled them from Indio, California, to the scabland area just west of Spangle 10 years ago.

After gardening in a year-round climate Carolyn said her biggest challenge was figuring out when it was really spring.

“Everyone said you couldn’t plant until the snow was off Mica Peak,” she said. “That didn’t happen until late May!”

Then there was figuring out what USDA zone her basalt rock microclimate was in.

“I grew all kinds of citrus trees in Indio.”

But garden she did, and she recently won the June Garden of the Month contest from the Inland Empire Gardeners.

The Nesbitts’ garden has sweeping views of the basalt outcrops and swales of still-green grass and gnarly pines characteristic of the channeled scablands. Building off the natural landscape, Carolyn filled the beds around their house with perennials and wildflowers with a few trees and shrubs thrown in for interest. In beds right off her deck, Johnny jump-ups were filling the spaces left from the Oriental poppies that bloomed earlier in the season. At the back of the bed, several clematis climbed a fence that backed into her greenhouse, a gift from her husband so she could extend her seasons.

Along the north fence, Carolyn built a dry creek garden filled with colorful drought-tolerant plants.

“I just laid out the hose and let the water make a channel down the slope and built the creek bed where it went.”

The blue-purple of lavender mixed happily with the yellow flowers of sedums. A barrel-chested blue spruce and clumps of blue fescue ornamental grass cooled the scene with their smoky blue needles and blades. The creek ended in a small water feature planted with some cattails and pond plants with a few gold fish swimming about for color.

“The birds love having the water,” she said.

Continuing around the yard, a huge perennial bed frames the subdued colors of the native landscape with plantings of lavender, salvia, Russian sage, peonies, bright orange California poppies and sunflowers and other perennials that provide color throughout the growing season. Birds and insects flitted around a flat basalt fountain; the gently moving water added just enough motion to attract them. Beyond the perennials was a small orchard that was also home to a flock of chickens.

On the southwest corner of the house Carolyn built a raised-bed vegetable garden which is home to a huge strawberry patch. We snacked on the strawberries and peas as we talked about how the basalt holds heat that help warm up the garden early.

Carolyn also earns the prize for the earliest ripe tomato of the season. Because of the heat the basalt holds, we harvested two nice red ones. This is while the rest of us struggle just to get our tomato plants to grow in this crazy spring weather. Way to go, Carolyn.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for over 40 years. She is co-author of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook” with Susan Mulvihill. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.