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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Shades of pink and purple to fill Duncan Garden this summer, with planting already underway

Seasonal workers Jed Wagner, front left, and Andrew Shipton add dahlias and alyssums Monday to Manito Park’s Duncan Garden. The colors this year will be pinks, purples and whites.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Dig, plant, fill, repeat.

That’s what the next few weeks will look like for Spokane Parks and Recreation gardener Kevin Kilgore, as well as several Friends of Manito volunteers and city employees, as they situate nearly 31,000 plants in the more than 60 beds of Duncan Garden.

Spokane Parks and Recreation crews began planting the garden Monday and expect to complete work in the next two to three weeks. Kilgore said it will still be a few months before the flowers are on full display, but he looks forward to what’s in store later this summer for the 112-year-old garden.

“I’m excited about the datura, and the dahlias did so well last year,” Kiilgore said, gesturing to a recently planted bed near the garden’s entrance. “I’m just stoked on those.”

The symmetrical English garden gets a new look each year, complete with a unique color scheme, new varieties and a fresh design. Designer Mattie Whitney, a horticulturist and gardener for Spokane Parks, said Duncan Garden will be filled with an analogous mix of pinks and purples, in contrast to the “Bright and Bold” rainbow display of last year.

Whitney said she and the team responsible for re-envisioning the garden each year start with a color scheme and then determine what cultivars they’d like to plant from there.

“As gardeners and plant lovers, we look at plant books and we want all of them,” Whitney said with a smile. “That’s one of the hardest parts, narrowing down your choices. We want to grow them all.”

All of the foliage and flowers that go into the garden each May are grown in the adjacent greenhouse, the Gaiser Conservatory, Whitney said. The facility has space to begin growing tens of thousands of seeds and starters in March, which are used to fill beds at city-owned golf courses, Riverfront Park and the Finch Arboretum, in addition to Duncan Garden.

This year’s lineup of plants and flowers features some newcomers to Manito Park and will omit at least one classic, Whitney said.

It will be the first year daturas and laurentia will be displayed prominently in the garden, with the former going into the urn shaped planters along the garden’s edge. Marigolds will not be featured because their typical red, orange and yellow colorways did not fit this year’s theme, Whitney said.

“There may not be happy grandmas,” Kilgore said of the lack of marigolds.

Daturas are poisonous, so their elevated placement is intended to keep pets and little ones safe while the community enjoys their beauty, Whitney said.

Whitney said she looks forward to watching the popstars phlox come in, which should provide dazzling displays of pinks and purples.

“They look like little fireworks,” Whitney said. “They’re going to be really neat when they fill in.”

Most of the maintenance for the Duncan Garden falls on Kilgore, who said it consists mainly of watering and weeding in the summer to maintain the traditional garden’s aesthetic. He also ensures the signature clean lines of the garden remain intact while thousands of visitors come through the park each summer.

Duncan Garden originally was called the Sunken Garden, created when Manito Park’s first superintendent had 42,500 wagonloads of dirt hauled away for use in all the city’s parks. The formal garden was designed and built in 1912 by Manito’s second superintendent, John Duncan, and renamed in his honor in 1941, according to the nonprofit The Friends of Manito.

The garden spans 3 acres and takes its styling from the European Renaissance, with geometric planting beds and a central water feature – a large granite fountain donated by the wife of hotelier Louis Davenport, who served on the park board for years before his death in 1951.

For the last few years, the Davenport fountain has been inoperable due to aging plumbing and electronic equipment. Kilgore said the interior of the fountain has been completely overhauled, which gives him hope the fountain will be operating this summer.

“The public asks about it all the time, and we’re trying to get it going,” Kilgore said.

Some of the laurentia planted earlier in the week appeared to be experiencing some shock in the move from the greenhouse to the flower beds, which gave Kilgore and Whitney some trepidation about how the garden newcomer would fare throughout the summer. The roughly foot-tall plant boasts ferny foliage and star-shaped delicate flowers at full bloom, but the green bunches laid on their sides in their bed near the center of the garden Wednesday.

Whitney said that’s just one of the challenges with bringing a fresh new look to Duncan Garden every summer.

“You’re always kind of going out on a limb when you’re picking new plants,” Whitney said. “But you gotta try the new stuff. You never know, it could be the next best thing.”