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Sunday, October 25, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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In the Garden: Sloped backyard is becoming a productive edible garden

UPDATED: Mon., Aug. 19, 2019

Spokane County Master Gardener Laurie Jarmer is delighted with the transformation of her sloped backyard into a productive edible garden. (Susan Mulvihill / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane County Master Gardener Laurie Jarmer is delighted with the transformation of her sloped backyard into a productive edible garden. (Susan Mulvihill / The Spokesman-Review)

When Rick and Laurie Jarmer bought their Five Mile home in 2016, they realized the landscape wasn’t exactly the garden of their dreams. They immediately rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

“I came up with a five-year plan, and we’re on year four now,” Laurie Jarmer explained.

The Jarmers moved to Spokane from Portland, where they had a huge garden. Their current home is on a small, sloping lot. Laurie Jarmer went through the Spokane County Master Gardener program in 2017, learning everything she could about gardening in the Inland Northwest.

“This year’s plan is to do the front yard,” she said. “We tore out the old junipers and cut down a large blue spruce because I wanted more light. Then we put in a rock wall. Eventually, I’ll add a cut-flower garden and roses.”

While the front yard is coming along, it was their backyard that won me over. Once I passed through the side gate, I was greeted by a lush, healthy vegetable garden growing in raised beds.

“Our main goal was to be able to grow a lot of our own veggies because we’ve done that for decades,” Jarmer said. “It’s an adventure when you get a new yard: You can do whatever you want. I’ve learned gardening takes a lot of patience, and I know you can’t do it all in one year.

First-time visitors would never know their back garden presented a challenge. The ground slopes away from the house and was covered with creeping junipers. After the Jarmers tore them out, they thought about what came next. On the plus side, the area faces south/southwest – which would provide vegetables with the sunlight they need – but there was still that slope.

“When I saw this hillside, I decided we should terrace it,” Laurie Jarmer said. “Two years ago, we put in five raised beds, which Rick angled to better accommodate the slope. We added more beds last year.”

To make the most of the space, they made the beds narrow and have planted crops a little closer than she would ordinarily prefer. She also uses supports to grow some crops vertically.

She frequently recommends raised beds to family, friends and Master Gardener clients.

“They are so much easier to work in,” she admitted. “The older you get, the less you want to be on your hands and knees. You also get really good soil, and having a drip irrigation system is ideal since it provides consistent water to all of the plants.”

I was impressed with the wide variety of thriving vegetable crops: lettuce, onions, parsnips, carrots, beets, broccoli, pole beans, asparagus, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and summer and winter squash. Herbs are growing in a metal stock tank, and rows of berry plants grow nearby.

Jarmer starts all of her plants indoors from seed. Each bed is labeled with one of her colorful signs indicating its contents.

Deer and squirrels are the biggest challenges. Once they surrounded the backyard with a solid fence, the deer haven’t jumped over it because they can’t see what’s on the other side. Since squirrels have been decimating their peach crop, Laurie Jarmer has covered the tree with bird netting, which is keeping them away.

Even though there are occasional trials, gardening is still her favorite activity.

“There is nothing more relaxing,” Jarmer said. “Gardening keeps your mind at peace about everything. I just love it.”

Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at Watch this week’s “Everyone Can Grow a Garden” video on

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