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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Home and garden

Gardening: Thornton Murphy Community Garden enters planning, fundraising stages

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 18, 2021

Dennis Anderson and Nancy Creed are part of a group of people starting a major new community garden near the Southside Senior and Community Center next to Thornton Murphy Park in the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood of Spokane.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Dennis Anderson and Nancy Creed are part of a group of people starting a major new community garden near the Southside Senior and Community Center next to Thornton Murphy Park in the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood of Spokane. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

The ground was frozen hard, and the wind was cutting through our many layers of winter clothing. Still, for Dennis Anderson and Nancy Creed, that didn’t matter. In a few short months, the frozen piece of land between the Southside Community Center and the South Hill water tanks will be the lush, green and inviting Thornton Murphy Community Garden for the Lincoln Heights community.

“It all started during a game of pinochle at the community center a couple of years back,” Anderson said. “I noticed this big empty space as we were playing and wondered if we could build a garden there.”

There has been talk of building a garden on the northeast corner of Thornton Murphy Park for a long time so maybe now was the time to do it. The space already had a lot of things going for it as a garden site. There’s an existing irrigation system that can be reworked to water the garden and a fence that will keep the urban deer out. The Southside Community Center is eager to have a garden there to enhance its outreach in the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood.

Anderson is no stranger to developing community gardens on the South Hill and already had a network of people who could help get the project started.

A decade ago, Anderson, city Councilwoman Lori Kinnear and a group of neighbors worked with the Spokane Water Department to develop the Commons Community Garden at the city water tank at 33rd Avenue and Lamonte Street on the South Hill. Both the Spokane Water Department and the Parks Department were in favor of the idea based on their existing experience with community gardens on their properties. The Southside Community Center signed on as the group’s fiscal agent and program host.

“We want this center to be the go-to place for our neighborhood,” said Shelagh Carmak, president of the community center’s board of directors. “A garden would draw in a wide range of people and cultures, and that is exciting.”

The Thornton Murphy Community Garden needed a plan.

Anderson received a grant from Kinnear’s office to fund the plan and early in 2020, he connected with Professor Steve Austin at WSU’s Landscape Architecture Department and his students from the ASLA Student Chapter Community Design Team. They agreed to take it on as their annual project.

The South Henry Studio joined the project to prepare the site plan needed for permit approvals. The hope was to have things ready to roll for last spring but the COVID-19 pandemic scrambled that plan until the fall when the group was finally able to roll out the concept plan.

“The students really enjoyed planning this garden,” Anderson said. “They felt like it would have a long-lasting impact on the community.”

The garden site is divided into a sunny open space, where the garden boxes will go, and a large shady space under the pine trees. Up to 100, 4-foot-by-8-foot garden boxes will be built in the sunny space that members of the community can rent for $25 a year.

In the shade of the pines, the space will include several community gathering spaces where the gardeners and the wider community can come together for cultural and community events. With access to the community center’s commercial kitchen, there will be space for community meals that celebrate the garden’s production and the community’s cultural traditions.

“There are several ethnic communities in the neighborhood,” Carmak said. “And we want to celebrate those cultures in the garden and the center.”

There will be teaching spaces where adults and children can come for workshops and learning experiences. The garden will feature pollinator and beneficial insect plantings to help the community learn about their importance.

In the future, the group hopes to build a greenhouse and a tool shed so gardeners can get an early start on the season.

The plan for building the garden now depends on the group’s fundraising capability before the kick-off of the spring garden season.

“We hope to have some boxes available for people to plant in this spring,” Anderson said. “But there is a lot to do before then.”

The City Water Department will reroute the water system but is requiring the group to put in a fence between the water tanks and the garden.

“That’s an $8,000 expense up front,” Anderson said.

The site will need to be leveled and boxes built, all of which will cost money. After the initial start-up, the remaining boxes and gathering and education spaces will be built as funds allow.

“People are already signing up for boxes. So, we know there is strong interest in this project, and we need to get it built,” Anderson said.

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