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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Even after the blast, well, they’re still having one

Stan and Donna Canter stand in their grotto garden. The net above the pond protects the  koi from predators. Pat Munts photo (Pat Munts photo / The Spokesman-Review)
Stan and Donna Canter stand in their grotto garden. The net above the pond protects the koi from predators. Pat Munts photo (Pat Munts photo / The Spokesman-Review)
Pat Munts

Dynamite isn’t your usual garden building tool. Unless you live on top of a basalt cliff and want to be closer to the view.

That’s all Stan and Donna Canter wanted to do at their home north of Wandermere. What they ended up with was a tropical paradise in the middle of the pines and dry grass meadows of a former cattle ranch. It’s no wonder they won the August Garden of the Month from the Inland Empire Gardeners.

“The house was too far back from the edge of the cliff to see our meadow,” said Donna. The cliff was just going to have to move. They brought in a blasting crew and carved out a huge hole in the cliff in front of the house. It was then that they discovered that the jumble of rock left from the blasting created an opportunity for a tropical paradise. “It was kind of like Jurassic Park,” said Donna.

Big rocks call for bold garden features and plants to frame them. The basalt had shattered into columns of slightly rounded boulders geologists call pillow basalts, so it took on an aged look quickly. The Canters created a pond at the bottom of the grotto and stocked it with koi.

A pile of rocks on the west side of the pond was reworked into a waterfall and a rockery. The rock to the east side of the pond where the soil was thin was reworked into an alpine garden. Stan built decks that hang down over the pond from the house, perfect for watching the large, colorful koi that circle looking for a handout. “We had to put in a net over the pond to keep the osprey and herons out,” said Stan. “They ate the biggest ones first.”

Because the grotto garden faces south, all this rock sitting in the sun created a microclimate that expanded the types of plants the Canters could grow. In the pockets in the rockery above the pond Donna planted bold grasses, perennials and evergreens and ground covers that cascade down the rocks. All took advantage of the heat to reach legendary heights.

Around the pond, they planted cannas, zebra grass, castor bean and some USDA Zone 6 evergreens. Under the corner of the deck and a huge Nishiki willow, they created a sitting area to appreciate the garden and pond.

But wait, there’s more. Back up on top of the basalt cliff, they created a large patio and cabana for entertaining. The bar shed has a green roof of sedums and other drought tolerant plants. Perfect for their daughter’s wedding earlier this summer.

Their entry garden of mixed evergreens, deciduous shrubs, grasses and perennials make the walk to the front door more of a meander through a rocky meadow. Off the patio the Canters put in a large vegetable garden that was overflowing with the late summer’s bounty.

And the meadow view that started it all? Several deer were wandering through below us as we talked.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached by e-mail at pat@
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