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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Backyard refuge

Don Schelling designed his backyard pond to include natural rock and boulders that were already on his property.
 (Photos by Ingrid Lindemann/ / The Spokesman-Review)
Don Schelling designed his backyard pond to include natural rock and boulders that were already on his property. (Photos by Ingrid Lindemann/ / The Spokesman-Review)
Amy Klamper Correspondent

Glancing through Don and Patricia Schelling’s picture window to the backyard beyond gives the impression that the couple lives in a nature preserve: Tall pines and large boulders dot the slope, giving way to ivy and lush maples at the rear of the oversized yard.

But step outside the back door for a stroll and an unmistakable Feng-Shui quality begins to emerge – from the bonsai-like rhododendrons and the tidy pine needle paths to the smooth, broom-swept mounds of sandy loam dotted with hostas and ferns.

“This is our grass,” Don says, pointing at the bed of pine needles beneath his feet. “I don’t own a lawnmower – I have a snow blower, and that’s it.”

After purchasing the post-war brick bungalow through a Department of Veteran’s Affairs repossession, the Schellings spent the next six years rehabbing the house and turning a backyard full of briars into a refuge from the rigors of everyday life.

“I knew I wanted as natural a look as possible,” says Don, who owns Schelling’s Dry Cleaners in Spokane. “It’s all natural, native grasses, hostas, everything perennial.”

The terraced rear deck that runs the length of the house provides an easy transition from the Schelling’s home to the outdoors. The couple used clear polycarbonate to shield much of the deck from rain while providing sunlight during the day and a beautiful view of the stars at night.

Pat, a retired interior specialist for Boise Cascade, used a number of architectural elements to divide the deck into outdoor “rooms,” including vintage windows hung to partition off an intimate outdoor sitting area and the couple’s backyard hot tub.

Nearby, a cedar garden closet with a wet sink that drains into the home’s rain gutter blends perfectly with a built-in barbecue and a hidden sliding gate that leads to the side yard.

From there a rubble rock wall that the Schellings said may have once been part of the old Hutton Mansion across the street, lines the east perimeter of the garden. And a so-called “weeping wall,” a water feature built into a basalt outcropping, provides aural ambience with the gentle flow of water trickling down the face of the rock.

Don extols such subtleties of living in a natural setting.

“Nothing in this yard is ever obvious,” he says. “Nature isn’t obvious.”

Although the couple enjoys the garden and hot tub late into the evening, Don says he steers clear of unnecessary outdoor lighting.

“No lights,” he says. “I hate that, it’s so Disney.”

He also avoids waste – every plant, shrub and tree in the backyard either existed when the couple bought the house, or was salvaged from friends, family or elsewhere.

“I like to recycle nature’s recyclables,” he says. “Every rhodie I have is from someplace else – mostly from plants that would have been torn out.”

Even the rocks are reclaimed: Large granite boulders from street construction in front of the couple’s home are now scattered deliberately about the backyard. One such rock that features a smooth, trough-like shape was used as the centerpiece for a waterfall Don built to flow into his large goldfish pond.

Another stone provides a flat bridge leading across the pond to a small concrete “patio,” salvaged from a section of sidewalk that once graced the front of the house.

Don says it was moved into place a full two years before the pond was constructed.

“I knew there was potential for a pond,” he says. “When you see it, your mind goes nuts.”

The patio, now furnished with a cafe table and chairs, is one of the many sitting areas in the backyard where the couple spends morning and evening taking in the well-ordered beauty of their natural surroundings.

“I call this my cathedral,” Don says, raising his eyes to the towering trees that shade his garden.

“I’m a spiritual person, not religious – there is a difference – and this is where I talk to God.”

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