Forty years ago, a young lady fell in love with a young man studying Spanish at the University of Washington. After studying classic Castilian Spanish, Daniel Sparks wanted to live in Spain for a year. Would Patty Sparks go with him? Only if he took her to Paris.
And so, they were off on an adventure that immersed them in the culture and language of the quiet northwest corner of Spain. Patty Sparks got to Paris but they both fell in love with the food and courtyard gardens of Spain.
Fast forward to their current garden in Northwood in Spokane Valley. Patty and Daniel Sparks have created their version of a Spanish courtyard garden filled with fruit, vegetables and flowers limited only by Spokane’s short growing season.
“I loved being able to go out in the courtyard and pick fresh vegetables and fruit for the day’s meals,” Patty Sparks said. “It is the way we should eat.”
The Sparks backyard garden is a series of terraces that rise to wild open spaces created by power transmission lines. A stout deer and rabbit fence separates the formal garden from the wild garden that hosts deer, rabbits and other wild critters.
“When the marmot shows up, we know there is a hole in the fence,” Patty Sparks said, laughing. “We plant things out there for them, too.”
In the terraced beds she grows Cinderella pumpkin, beans, tomatoes, kale, chard, garlic, lettuce, peas, peppers and several kinds of summer and winter squash.
“I rotate my crops every year and grow everything organically,” she said.
One bed is full of herbs that Patty dries for winter.
Barberry bushes are planted all through the garden that she picks for the berries to make Spanish dishes they enjoy . “They taste like cranberries but without the color.”
Niagara grapes climb a large arbor covering the patio.
“To plant the grapes my husband had to chip 3-foot-deep and -wide holes in the rock to provide enough space for the roots.”
They cut back the vines every fall so they can take down the arbor before the heavy snows hit.
Among the vegetable plants, Patty grows flowers that attract all kinds of birds and insects to help with pollination and insect control. Lavender, a couple of kinds of amaranth and sunflowers draw in the birds, butterflies and beneficial insects.
“This year, I didn’t trim back the lavender after it finished blooming and the goldfinches came in, weighted the flowers stalks to the ground and gobbled up the seed heads,” Patty said.
In the front yard is a parterre bed that resembles a formal French country garden but outlined in brick left over from the patio project. Here, Patty grows strawberries, beets and purple petunias.
“It’s my quilt garden. Next year it will be something different.”
Russian sage, lavender, sand cherry, more barberry and low-growing junipers round out the front garden. When asked if she used the junipers in their cooking, she said no. They don’t produce the juniper berries used in gin.
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