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Garden of the month

Terry and Charlie Klement in their award-winning garden, which has been their passion since 1996.  
 (The Spokesman-Review)
Terry and Charlie Klement in their award-winning garden, which has been their passion since 1996. (The Spokesman-Review)
Pat Munts

The Inland Empire Gardeners have announced the winner of the May Garden of the Month Contest: Charlie and Terry Klement of Airway Heights.

The Klements’ garden is no ordinary garden.

“We were forced into gardening before we even moved here,” says Terry.

The couple’s garden is on North Rambo Road just before it drops into the Deep Creek Canyon. In the mid-1990s, the county began a major realignment of Rambo Road that sliced several hundred yards off a hillside on their property which was once covered with forest, scrub brush and the edge of a hay field.

The Klements had no choice but to start their garden or lose the hillside to erosion.

“We had no top soil, pure sand, and we weren’t gardeners,” says Terry, laughing.

It took the couple two years to level the 18,000 yards of fill from the road project and drill wells to support a garden. Three semi-truckloads of compost (45 yards each truckload) were added to the fill to build up the soil to support the garden. Then they were ready to plant.

Nine years and thousands of trees, shrubs and perennials later, you would never know you were standing just feet from a giant road cut on the windswept West Plains.

“This is a true garden oasis. You drive up to it and have no idea what paradise awaits you,” says Allan Foster, garden judge. “It’s a fun place for people and wildlife; one of the best gardens I’ve seen.”

For the first few years all the watering was done by hand. Eventually sprinkler lines to support 80 heads were run, and over a mile of drip irrigation lines were laid.

The Klements refer to the garden as “the park” because a large grassy area is the first thing you see. Your eye is immediately drawn to the gazebo tucked in the edge a beautiful border of mixed deciduous trees, conifers and shrubs. As you step from the lawn to the woodsy border and the shade of the gazebo, you immediately notice the quiet sound of a small water feature guarded by a great blue heron sculpture. Trees like Rocky Mountain maple, vine maple, dogwoods, mountain ash, aspen and a stand of mixed native conifers shade a wonderful collection of woodland plants.

The Klements have mixed a generous quantity of perennials and ground covers amongst the trees and shrubs. How do they decide what to plant?

“If I like it, I’ll try it,” says Terry. It’s as simple as that.

In the shade of the trees, the air is cool with no hint of the usually steady winds of the West Plains. All around you, birds are flitting through the trees.

“We’ve got mountain bluebirds, western bluebirds, grosbeaks, hummingbirds, just tons of birds,” says Terry. And then there are the deer.

After a sit in the gazebo and a cool drink while watching the sunset, the Klements walked me around the woodland to their ornamental grass border that borrows from the open grass and forest land that surrounds their garden.

Here a variety of ornamental grasses wave in the wind like the wild grasses on the other side of the fence creating a seamless blend from a tended garden to the wild one.

We continued our walk up the long western border of the garden looking at the wonderful collection of shrubs and trees all grown to perfection. The Klements then led me down a path through the thick border that I thought would take us to another woodsy section of the garden.

Instead, we broke from the trees onto a narrow path that overlooked the road cut and Rambo Road several hundred feet down the slope – the road cut that started the whole garden project. Instead of ignoring it as an eyesore, the Klements capitalized on the wonderful view by adding a bench and more plantings to stabilize the grassy slope. It was beautiful in the evening light.

We ended our walk with a turn around the “garden shed” that serves as the Klements’ “home away from home” as they don’t actually live on the garden site. It reminded me of a cabin you’d find on a local lake, natural shingles with white trim, a front porch and just enough room to get away from a shower or a nippy day. The shed and its sitting space overlook the rest of the Klements’ acreage and 45 acre alfalfa field, and again reminds you that we live in beautiful Eastern Washington where gardens like the Klements can take you through many different environments on one easy walk.

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