“Grow what you want to eat” local gardeners focus on organization, practical planting wins new Spokane Interstate Fair garden category

For Gabriele Tilley, successful gardening is about beauty and smart use of space.

Tilley’s garden, which is located in front of her Long Lake home, is a mix of flowers, vegetables, and ornamental plants all neatly organized in raised beds. Tilley has been cultivating her small garden patch for over a decade and normally would have submitted much of what she grows to the Spokane County Interstate Fair for judging.

After this year’s fair was moved online, the organizers developed a new category to allow gardeners to participate, by allowing them to submit photos and designs of their entire garden for judging. Tilley was the inaugural winner, garnering praise from the judges for her neat, organized plan and productive use of a small space.

She said the secret to her gardening success is likely her focus on plants she enjoys.

“Grow what you want to eat, and then go from there,” she said.

Her garden includes kale, eggplant, tomatoes and basil, often sharing raised beds with flowers. She said mixing the plants attracts bees and other pollinating insects, and it allows her to maximize space.

Everything in her garden is planted in a raised bed and much of it is held up by home made frames. Her pumpkins are draped over A-frames she made from zip ties and hog wire and her tomato crates are built from rebar. The A frame has allowed her to keep her gourds and pumpkins neat and organized, and provide support for sunflowers, which grow through several A-frames.

She said the neat arrangement of raised beds, the grass clippings she layers on the paths between them and the mixed plants also creates a space she wants to spend time in, a place she can create and relax in for hours.

“For me, it’s meditative,” she said.

Tilley said her garden also is a good place to start plants for the Friends of Manito, an non profit that supports Manito Park in Spokane. Tilley volunteers for the organization and has owned a pet sitting business and has worked as an orthodontics technician.

She said she’s been gardening for 30 years and has picked up many tips and tricks to make her own garden successful, but added there’s always more to learn. She recalled a recent issue with hundreds of volunteer pumpkin plans she accidentally grew after she composted pumpkins. She said the seeds must have germinated at some point and in the spring as she was constantly surprised by unexpected pumpkins.

“Gardening is still an adventure,” she said. “You make mistakes, but then you learn from them.”

For runner-up garden category winner Barb Goehner, gardening is about sharing what she grows with others and the joy of being outdoors.

“People have other joys, but I love this,” she said.

Goehner normally enters 30 to 40 vegetables in the fair every year, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the reduced number of entries accepted into the fair this year, she only entered a pumpkin and photos

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