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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Taking it easy

Designing a landscape for low maintenance and accessibility means a lighter workload in years to come

Greenacres resident Karen Whitehead has a low-maintenance garden and taller beds which are easier for her to use. (Dan Pelle)
Greenacres resident Karen Whitehead has a low-maintenance garden and taller beds which are easier for her to use. (Dan Pelle)

While it’s not very polite to point this out, it’s a simple fact none of us is getting any younger. As we design our landscapes or add to our gardens, it’s something we really should keep in mind.

When Karen Whitehead moved to Greenacres with her husband, Jake, nine years ago, that was first and foremost on her mind. They had recently moved from Leavenworth, Washington, where they owned a 20-acre pear orchard. When one of her friends heard they had bought 5 acres, she was quick to offer some sage advice:

“Don’t overdo it with your landscape because you won’t be able to keep up as you get older,” she told Whitehead. “And every time I work in the garden, I think of her because I’ve made certain our landscape is easy to keep up with,” Whitehead said.

As a WSU-Spokane County Master Gardener since 2010, she understands how quickly one can fall in love with plants and get carried away in the garden.

“It’s just like a buffet: You want everything you see but you can’t eat it all,” she explained. “When folks create an involved landscape, they don’t think about the ramifications. It’s so important to think about the big picture in realistic proportions.”

Whitehead emphasized how important it is to avoid rushing the planning stage, as tempting as that might be. Both she and her husband took landscaping classes because they were determined to do it right the first time rather than having to redo everything or struggle to keep up.

“I recommend taking classes at the Extension office, through the Friends of Manito, or at garden centers,” she said. “If you access those informational classes first, it will save you money, time and effort.”

In her front yard, she used weed-blocking fabric and gravel around the shrubs and the perennials surrounding her home to eliminate the need for weeding. There are two small front beds that aren’t covered with landscape fabric, so Whitehead only has those beds to weed.

There is a minimal amount of lawn, which can be mowed quickly, and everything is watered with sprinklers that run on timers. That way, she doesn’t have to move hoses around and expend time doing hand-watering.

When selecting perennials and shrubs, she chose plants that are drought-tolerant, low-maintenance and deer-resistant. If necessary, Whitehead uses a deer repellant called Liquid Fence. Since the neighborhood deer can be particularly persistent during the winter months, she covers their favorite plants to keep them away.

Whitehead has three 28-inch-tall raised beds for growing vegetables and herbs. The higher beds are easier to maintain because they eliminate the need for bending and reaching, and they can be weeded quickly. Each bed is watered with a drip-irrigation system set on a timer.

In both the vegetable garden and the front yard, she has decorative mailboxes that hold frequently-used tools such as pruners, trowels and gloves where they are always handy.

One of Whitehead’s favorite tools is a wheeled cart that features an easily-emptied, wheelbarrow-style compartment and a bin for tools, plant ties, a phone and water bottle.

In her flower beds, she lets violets, Johnny jump-ups and lily of the valley grow as rampantly as they want because they choke out weeds while providing attractive flowers and lush green growth.

Whitehead also intensively plants her flower beds to make it difficult for weeds to grow.

“I like to garden tight,” she explained. “It’s harder for weeds to get going and makes a nice green blanket on the bottom of each bed that I don’t have to do anything with. I don’t like to see bare soil.”

She is practical about her landscape yet enjoys being surrounded by as much color as possible.

“I don’t plant (spring- or summer-blooming) bulbs because they have a short bloom cycle,” she explained. “I plant a lot of annuals instead since they’ll bloom all season long.”

There are also several attractive flowering vines supported by old orchard ladders. A support for a honeysuckle vine is painted a bright purple to contrast the orange flowers.

In the backyard, there is a large concrete patio. Whitehead decided not to have a lot of grass because, as she put it, “Having grass in the wrong place is not a good thing.”

Since she has kept her gardening duties to a minimum, she has the time to pursue fun, creative projects. Whitehead especially enjoys adding a touch of whimsy to the garden by repurposing recycled objects and antique items as garden art.

“I enjoy taking nothing and making something with it,” she said. “I love that challenge because it keeps me clicking.”

Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of Northwest Gardener’s Handbook. She can be reached at
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