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Wednesday, August 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Lush landscape blooms like jewel box of colors

Sitting in Jim Berger’s cool backyard in northwest Spokane on a recent hot afternoon was a little bit of heaven. Everywhere you looked, a jewel box of color was thriving in spite of the hot summer. It was very evident that Berger loves his garden and why he won the July Garden of the Month award from the Inland Empire Gardeners.

When Berger moved into the house in 2001, the landscaping consisted of two maple trees and a lot of grass – nothing else. Interestingly, this was Berger’s second time in the house: He lived in it as a child, starting in 1967.

Berger said he wasn’t a gardener when he moved in, but he had gardening friends who took him under their wings. They introduced him to plants by giving him castoffs from their gardens. It didn’t take him long to discover local nurseries and more plants that caught his eye. As we walked around he shared stories about some of the people who had helped him. Like the 99-year-old woman who gave him a struggling variegated Touchmark hemlock and the 85-year-old who shared a start of an unusual large-leafed plant. Both were active gardeners he helped out once in a while.

The first thing a visitor is greeted with in Berger’s front yard is a tall border of artfully arranged perennials, ornamental grasses, small evergreens and shrubs. He cut down the two maples trees to open the area to the sun and then turned the stumps into container gardens filled with annuals and surrounded by beds of coleus, petunias and dahlias. Around the foundation of the 1950s-era house, he has created a nice mix of small evergreens, Japanese maples and colorful perennials.

The backyard is a show-stopping series of garden rooms. His shady patio is filled with large pots of colorful coleus and backed by an arbor covered with Virginia creeper vine. On cool evenings he lights a small firepit for warmth. Off to one side is a comfortable dining table backed by a large planter of Million Bells petunias that cascade down the fence.

Walking away from the patio, you walk into a sunny space where Berger has covered a large perimeter fence with a grape arbor, trumpet vine, an 8-foot-tall Joe Pye weed and borders of black-eyed Susans, light purple phlox, zinnias and ground cover phlox. Shady spots are filled with hosta, bergenia and a huge five-leaf Akebia.

In the center of the backyard Berger built a large, round, raised bed that surrounds a sunken patio. The beds here are again filled with a nicely arranged collection of grasses, perennials and small evergreens. The raised bed lets you see the plants up close while making the patio it surrounds feel sunken and secluded.

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

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