Sometimes life hands you lemons and the best thing you can do is throw yourself into making the best batch of lemonade known to man.
That’s what Carmen Perkins did seven years ago after a couple of family tragedies. She bought an open, one-acre piece of land in the central part of Spokane Valley, built a house and started turning the flat, empty lot into a garden. Her efforts earned her the August Garden of the Month from the Inland Empire Gardeners.
“It was nothing but grass and weeds, nothing,” Perkins said. “I started with a clean slate.”
The first thing she did was save all the rocks that turned up during construction. Being located in the Spokane Valley means you have lots of rocks. The rocks were the start of the meandering paths she began building through the property. Friends began turning her on to stashes of free bricks that showed up on Craigslist. Her neighbor would do the site searches, and Perkins would put together a group of friends to haul them home.
Slowly she began to put in plants that she liked or that reminded her of home in the South. She added an intriguing and eclectic collection of garage and farm sale finds to serve as garden art. This includes a path defined by upended blue bottles and an old wood burning stove as an outdoor fireplace.
Perkins came to gardening late in life. She had helped her mother and grandmother garden in her home state of Mississippi, but once she married her Air Force husband, the gardening had to wait.
“You can’t garden in military housing,” she said with a chuckle. They landed in Spokane in 1980 when her husband retired. She was ready to garden again.
Being from the South, Perkins loves hydrangeas and has planted many of them throughout the garden. Some like the blue and oakleaf hydrangea are varieties that traditionally struggle in most parts of our region. Perkins has them in protected spots close to the house or tucked near her hedges. She also has planted Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) that has very fragrant, brown to reddish-brown flowers in the spring. While the Carolina allspice is hardy to Zone 4, the crepe myrtle she is experimenting with is good only to Zone 6.
“I love them, so I thought I’d try it,” Perkins said of the Carolina allspice. She is also growing Osage orange, which is native to the southern Plains. She is using it to create hedging in the garden. Its round, very nubby inedible fruit resembles an orange.
Perkins looks after her wildlife, too. Several hummingbird feeders are scattered around the garden, and she has planted lots of their favorite plants. At the back of her property she maintains a brush pile that the California quail like to hide in. We were chastised by several of them as we walked by on our way to her gazebo made of branches and salvaged posts.
“It’s a nice place to sit and create new ideas,” she said.
Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for over 40 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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