March 5 Feature Story: Phyllis Stephens


Phyllis StephensIt was a tremendous pleasure for me to interview and write a feature story about Phyllis Stephens, Spokane’s famous garden guru! This article ran on the cover of The Spokesman-Review’s “Today” section. Here’s a link to it: Phyllis Stephens has answered Spokane’s gardening questions for decades.

Even though the article was one of the longest I’d ever written, I still had a hard time fitting in everything I wanted to say about Phyllis. She is an amazing, delightful woman who has had a very impressive career in the world of horticulture. And that career has spanned 3 decades so far! Wow.

I didn’t have room to include all of her accomplishments, so here is a list:

Master Gardener and Spokane County Extension horticulture aide: 1981 to 1989
“Peter’s Garden”, KREM-TV: 1987-1991
Garden column writer, The Spokesman-Review: 1989-2002
KXLY 920’s “Lawn & Garden Show”: 1991 to present
Guest speaker, NW Flower & Garden Show (3 times)
Charter president, Friends of Manito: 1990
President, Friends of Manito: 2004-2006
Interstate Fair Board, 7 years
“Woman of Distinction in Communication” award for MATRIX: 1994
Honorary Grand Marshal for Lilac Parade: 2002
Member, Spokane Symphony Chorale for 15 years
Her garden was featured on Ed Hume’s “Gardening in America” TV program

Here are two little-known facts to share with you:

  1. You probably don’t know this but I began writing the garden column for The Spokesman-Review because of Phyllis! She gave up the columns in 2002 due to having too much on her plate, and that’s when they asked me to start writing them. Thank you, Phyllis, for starting me on my path in the world of horticulture!
  2. The above photo of Phyllis was taken in my garden in the early 1990s, when she did a live show there! (notice how new everything looks, LOL)

And Last but not least, here are some wonderful memories that Phyllis’ son Bill shared with me, which I didn’t have room for in the article:

“Gardening has been my mom’s passion as far back as we can remember.  We were taught how to deadhead petunias when we were about 8, we made flats to transplant her annuals by 10, and learned that with a little manure and a little peat moss, you could make almost anything grow.
“My mom would start in the yard early in the morning.  After a couple hours of feeling guilty that she was out there by herself, the four of us would trickle out to the yard to begin one of her many projects.  She was famous for saying, ‘if we all work together, we can get it done in a half-hour.’  
“One of my favorite memories was those late Spokane summer days, the sun going down, my dad cooking on the BBQ, and my mom coming in from a full day of working in the yard, dirty jeans, her trusty three-prong rake, a glass of ice water in her hand, and that proud grin on her face seemingly saying, ‘that was a good day in the yard – can’t wait to get out there again tomorrow.’
“My mom gave us a gift.  To watch someone live with passion and energy, taking such pride in her work, motivating and inspiring so many to soak in the joy of ‘playing’ in the garden – it inspired us to pursue our life’s passions.  She learned that from my Grandma, and passed it down to us.  
“When you see that smile on her face, or hear that contagious laugh of hers, that’s real.  Oh, she got serious when we would accidentally weed her poppies, or break one of her begonias at the stem, but what fills our memories are those satisfied smiles as she finished weeding her rose bed, or the laughter as she found her zucchini had accidentally grown the size of a small suitcase.  
“Her four boys are so proud of my mom.  She combined her passion for gardening with her love of family.  She always made us feel like we were the most important thing in her life, even as she prepared for a tour of her yard or staying up late to finish another gardening tip for her column.
“I have been so impressed with the way my mom has answered questions on her radio show.  She treats every caller with the utmost respect.  She doesn’t do it because her job calls for her to do it, she does it because she actually does respect everyone that calls in.  She knows that everyone, including her, will always be an amateur gardener at heart, wanting to see something grow out of nothing.  She takes such care in escorting people through their questions, and finds great satisfaction in helping just one have the kind of experience she feels daily in living and loving her garden.”
Thanks so much, Bill Stephens, for sharing this with all of us!