April 28, 2009

Spokane Snow vs. Seattle Rain

Recently another blogger friend confused my hometown of Spokane (the second largest city in Washington state) with Seattle (the largest city in Washington). I had to laugh because it happens a lot. When people think of Washington, they think of Seattle. I don't mind, because at least they know the name of one of our cities. Quick - name the largest city in Wyoming. What about South Dakota or Montana? Did I stump you? I don't know, either.
For the purposes of gardening, Spokane (pronounced spo-cann, not spo-cane) is very different from Seattle. For starters, the two cities are nearly 300 miles apart. So for this post I've compiled a list of mostly garden-related differences between the two.
1. Spokane's signature precipitation is snow, while Seattle's is rain. Spokane's inland climate falls into USDA zone 5b and is influenced by the mountains that surround us, while Seattle's coastal climate is an 8. Winters are a lot colder here in Spokane!
2. Spokane gets 17 inches of precipitation in an average year, while Seattle gets 37. Seattle's air is more humid as well, since it's closer to the ocean. That means Seattle gardeners have fewer sprinkler systems but more problems with fungal diseases (blackspot on roses, etc.).
3. Spokane is rather conservative politically, while Seattle is very liberal. This leads to occasional mutterings about how eastern Washington should secede from the West, though it doesn't influence gardening much. Seattle kids probably attend computer-programming workshops on weekends, while my kids beg to spend Saturday morning at the shooting gallery in Cabela's (what kind of hicks are we raising around here?).
4. Spokane gardeners stick with cold-hardy shrubs like lilacs - we're known as the Lilac City, after all, and have a Lilac Festival in May. Seattle gardeners have many more choices in their mild climate, including camellias.
5. And speaking of shrubs, acid-loving shrubs like rhododendrons generally look pale and half-dead in Spokane, while they threaten to engulf entire houses over in Seattle. Our soil isn't acidic enough to keep rhodies (or pieris or azaleas or camellias) happy. But the nurseries here all sell them anyway.
6. The largest industry in Spokane is healthcare (we're a regional medical center for Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, Northern Idaho and Montana), while Seattle is known for computers (Microsoft) and aerospace (Boeing). And while Seattle's most famous entrepreneur is Bill Gates, a friend of ours here in Spokane has a great side business selling authentic camouflage-print neckties. Sorry, he holds the patent, so you can't get in on the goldmine.
7. The mountains around Spokane - and many of the neighborhoods within the city - are covered with Ponderosa pine trees, while Seattle's nearby mountains are forested with Hemlock and Douglas-fir, among others. Thankfully, huckleberry bushes can be found in both areas.
8. Many Spokanites drive 4-wheel drive SUV's, which they actually need to get up steep streets in the snow. Many Seattlites drive Volvos or hybrid vehicles. Their city shuts down when they get a few inches of snow. Our city can handle several feet of snow at a time, though we did slow down, and many trees lost branches, after receiving a record-breaking 6 feet of snow within 3 weeks last winter.
9. Spring in Spokane is sooo slow to arrive. Seattle doesn't have to wait as long for hellebore blooms, spring bulbs, roses, daylilies and everything else. I'm now attempting to suppress, with only partial success, climate envy.
10. By now readers from Spokane are thinking, "Do we really have to endure MORE comparisons to Seattle?" Readers in Seattle are thinking, "People in Spokane compare themselves to us? Where is Spokane again?"
. . . three hundred miles east, 20 degrees colder, 20 inches drier, and you're there!


  1. Hi VWgarden- the Cabellas comment is still making me laugh. My kid thinks only cool kids drive jacked up trucks with gun racks in them. To think I moved her from Phoenix to West Central small town Idaho to keep her safe. College should really be an eye opener. When you got 6 feet last year, we got 5+. It was so romantic, for a minute. Then the need to shovel set in and OMG. I hope that doesn't happen again for a while. I feel your pain!

  2. This was really great because even though I've lived in the Seattle area most of my life I really didn't know much about Spokane. I've never even been there before. Very true about the snow. They close school here if any flakes fall at all. Really interesting about the low acidity soil too!
    I have to tell you that now when I look at the new compost around my plants I think of you describing it as a black tuxedo and it really is true!
    Hope spring is there now :)

  3. VW .. being a Canadian you might not think I knew most of this .. but I did .. it amazes me that a lot of Americans don't know this though.
    I think that is why I feel an affinity for you because you are in the same zone as I am yet you are very far away .. how cool is that ? LOL
    This was a great post for people to "get it" about Spokane .. and yes .. I pronounce it "your" way girl ! LOL
    PS .. Bill Gates really does that ?? LOL

  4. You taught me a lot about Washington. Having never been to your great state, I enjoy learning about it. Very neat the comparisons!

  5. Great post. Being born and raised here I knew some of it but certainly not all the facts. I have never been to Spokane but do go to Eastern Washington occasionally to visit family. Thanks this was very entertaining while being informative.

  6. Good one VW! Glad to know all there is to know about Spo-Cane Worshington. ;-)

  7. Excellent post...very entertaining. I thought Spockane was known for apples too? gail

  8. Great comparisons but ,as the daughter of a Western Montanan, the word that really jumped out at me was HUCKLEBERRIES! Can you do an ode to them sometime?

  9. I enjoyed all of the comparisons and learned so much, VW. Having never been out your way, I found it interesting. Yeah, we could go online and 'google' this info but who would? And, it's so personal when you write it...it'd be boring online! You managed to 'suppress' (most!) of your 'climate envy' but I did sense a tiny bit--and I would feel the same way, I'm sure! I hope spring is 'springing up' for you now!

  10. Uh-oh, I think I'm the uninformed blogger friend who mixed up Spokane and Seattle. If it makes you feel better, I mix up Washington, Oregon and Canada, too - I'm an equal opportunity, cold weather geography ignoramus.

    Love your comparisons, I will trot them out the next time Washington state comes up at a party and stun and amaze my friends.

    P.S. Thirty-seven inches of rain?! I think I'd prefer snow.

  11. Apples - Gail - the Wenatchee area is most famous for apples. That's located about(??) 200 miles west of here, closer to Seattle. But we do have the hobby farming community of Greenbluff nearby, where I first tasted Honeycrisp apples - amazing!!
    Huckleberries do deserve a post of their own - probably in August, when our family does our annual picking trip in the Idaho mountains. My grandparents started the tradition 60 years ago. We pick a bunch and freeze them for use in pies and muffins all year long. Last weekend we treated guests to a pie - with homemade ice cream - and their consensus was that it was the best pie that had ever touched their lips. My head might have swelled a bit :-)
    Susan, ha - thanks for the post idea!! And somewhere I read that New York City gets about as much rain as Seattle, but theirs comes down in big storms instead of drizzling all the time. I'm not sure I prefer snow . .

  12. VW - I loved this post! Having escaped Spokane when I was 21 and run off to Seattle I was certainly glad to get away. That lasted for 10 years and then I was back to Spokane. All that you say is soooo true. I live in Portland now but occasionally get back to Spokane to visit family and I check in on your blog every so often to see how things are doing there. Thanks for the connection to my home town!

    A Spokane/Seattle story for you: my brother moved to Phoenix and I was down visiting him. I bought a bottle of wine and had to show my ID - the clerk looked at it and said "wow - how can you stand all that rain" - as if all of Washington is Seattle.

    Oh - sorry one other story. Had a friend visit when I lived in Seattle. She went to write a check (you know - back when people actually did that) and asked if they would take a check from Spokane, the clerk actually said "where is that?"....

  13. Hi VW, this is just too funny but very educational. Love the tie maker! I admit to being one who knows very little about the whole state of Washington, other than there are very nice gardens there. Thanks for clearing up the differences. :-)

  14. VW, thanks for educating me on Spokane. I've been to Anacortes which is also a lot different from Seattle and an hour and a half away. My friend, Wanda, from Oklahoma moved there. I knew very little about your wonderful city, but I hope to visit it someday too.~~Dee

  15. Hi VW, I live in Spokane myself and I'm just chuckling at all the comments. Great post about us here in the boonies. I think we got lucky with all the snow 'cause our arms are in shape for our 153 day growing season.

  16. I had to laugh at this as I have relatives from Wenatchee and Seattle, and they are two different countries. It's the mountains, folks. Never mind, I come from the Other State: people assume not only that everything is like Los Angeles, it's like in the movies, an even bigger leap. We get a bit of snow and probably the same hot summers. I have to argue with bulb companies to get unchilled tulips; they assume I'm in a no-freeze zone and tell me I must chill them even though I've been growing them for fifteen years.


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