by Jan Cashman

The weather every year is unique, but 2011 had some real extremes.  We had a snowy winter.  According to Greg Ainsworth, columnist for the Chronicle, “from November through June, was the 3rd wettest period in 113 years.”  At the MSU Weather Station, April, May and June was the coolest three month period in 36 years.   We use our apricot tree’s blossom time to determine how early or late spring arrives; the earliest it has bloomed is April 19, the latest, May 11; this year it didn’t bloom until May 18!  In July and August, we enjoyed beautiful weather, which made up for the cool, wet spring.  Summer temperature highs were mostly in the 80’s, we had no days over 100 degrees, little rain, and nights were cool which made for good sleeping.  Summer continued through September, when temperatures were above average, and frosts, when occurring at all, were light.

How did this year’s weather affect gardening and growing things? During the Gallatin Gardeners Club’s October meeting, members reported on what worked for them and what didn’t this year, particularly in their vegetable gardens.  Many planted their gardens later than usual because of the wet, cool, weather.  Some that planted early regretted it because seeds didn’t germinate and they had to replant.  Tomatoes planted too early, before the ground was warm enough, did not do well.

Although gardens were late getting started, by early October gardeners reported huge crops and an overall successful year.  Large harvests of tomatoes of all kinds– early, late, cherry, large, and Roma types–were reported.  The warm September certainly was a big factor in ripening tomatoes.  Some grew their tomatoes in pots, some in the ground, others in greenhouses, but all reported success.  Some gardeners had so many tomatoes they were giving them away!

Sweet corn, which doesn’t always get ripe in our short-season climate, was a big success with the gardeners this year.  Some had corn stalks as tall as 8 feet! My husband Jerry and I grew 5 varieties of sweet corn and were eating corn from August 18 through early October.  Our favorite variety was “Incredible”, an 85-day corn that was the last to ripen, but had big, sweet ears.   An early fall frost and Incredible would not have ripened.  Other vegetable variety recommendations from garden club members include: Heirloom “Cinderella Rouge Vif D’Etampes”, a pumpkin that truly is shaped like Cinderella’s carriage.  We enjoyed long, slim, productive and tender “Slenderette” beans from our garden.  Don Mathre’s “Jade” beans were big and productive.   “Yukon Gold” potatoes continue to be a favorite and “Sungold” cherry tomatoes continue to win taste tests.  “Parks Whopper” has been a large and reliable tomato for us.  “Goliath” tomatoes grew as large as 1#, yet ripen early enough for our climate.  John Austin liked early “Coreless Amsterdam” baby carrots.

Although small fruits ripened later than usual, they were good and plentiful.  Our raised bed produced lots of strawberries, both Junebearing and Everbearing; their foliage was so thick it was hard to find the berries.  Raspberry crops were great–Garden Club members Bonnie and Charlie Hash, picked 5 ½ gallons in one day from their row of raspberries of mixed varieties.    Currants and gooseberries reportedly produced well as did our 28 year-old Meteor cherry which produced buckets of pie cherries again this year.

Although fruit trees bloomed later than usual, it has been another great year for apples and plums.  We have had wonderful crops of early ripening Goodland, State Fair, Hazen, and Chestnut Crabs.  A new, not well-known variety in our orchard called “Zestar” is crisp, has excellent flavor, and stores well.   The later-ripening apples, like Haralred, Sweet Sixteen, Honeycrisp, and Red Baron are later than ever this year.

Many of the gardening problems are the same from year to year– heavy clay soils, insects, voles, deer.  This year, of course, the late spring was challenging to gardeners.  Spring’s cool, wet weather brought on the slugs.  Then, aphids arrived with a vengeance on trees, shrubs, and even plants they usually don’t bother.  Grasshoppers were not much of a problem this year, but spider mites hit later in the summer.     Hail cut a swath through the valley on Father’s Day, not nearly as widespread as last year’s devastating hail storms.

Deer continue to challenge us gardeners.  Fencing vegetable gardens seems to be the best solution.  We have discovered voles love raised bed gardens because the soil is loose and easy to burrow through.  Fine hardware wire can be stapled under your raised bed to keep them out.  I have been using vole repellants to keep them away—repellants are not poisonous and are safe to use around edibles and pets.

In 2011 we continued to see trees dying or severely damaged from the extreme temperature variations in the fall of 2009.  The City of Bozeman’s tree replacement program, which gives vouchers to replace boulevard trees in the city limits, has been a great help to replant our city forest.

Another long, beautiful fall gave us gardeners plenty of time to harvest late crops, plant bulbs, and winterize.  If you haven’t already done so, wrap your fruit and other smooth-barked trees to protect from sunscald, rodents, and deer and give your trees and other plants a deep watering before the ground freezes.

by Jan Cashman

The Emerson Cultural Center’s 2011 Garden and Home Tour was the best ever, with over 450 people buying tickets and touring the gardens.  We met a gardening couple who had driven all the way from Fort Benton to see the beautiful gardens and get ideas for their own!  Most often, the Emerson’s garden tour has been held around July 10, but this year the tour was held in mid-August.  Seeing the gardens this late gave a whole different perspective.  Spring-flowering perennials were done blooming, but summer-flowering perennials were at their peak, annual flowers were spectacular, and vegetable gardens were ripe for harvesting.

The two gardens just past Four Corners were in beautiful settings on the Gallatin River.  I asked one of the gardeners why he thought his plants did so well.  Sometimes river sites can be lower than surrounding ground, and, therefore, catch frost, but he attributed his success in growing to “good riverbed soil and wind protection”.   A focal point of this beautiful garden with numerous perennial beds, each different, was an attractive greenhouse with a root cellar under it to store vegetables.   Their large vegetable garden was fenced to keep deer out.   All the vegetables were grown in raised beds high enough so they don’t have to bend over to pick them!

A trellis in this garden was covered with an old-fashioned sweet pea variety called “Cupani”.  Cupani sweet peas were named after the monk who discovered this flower growing wild in the mountains of Sicily, and, in 1699, sent its seeds to a botanist in England.   Cupani’s small blossoms are a combination of dark pink and purple.

Just down the road, another garden had a gorgeous planting along the driveway containing a mixture of ornamental grasses, perennial and annual flowers, shrubs, even a tree or two, along with interesting metal garden art.  When asked the secret of her thriving plants and flowers, this gardener said that seven years ago, when her garden was still in the planning stage, she planted two green manure crops;  in May she planted a mix of cool-season vetches, oats, and legumes and tilled them into the soil in early July.  Then, she planted a warm-season green manure mix of buckwheat and other legumes and tilled that in at the end of the summer.

Just like her neighbor, annual sweet peas were a thriving feature of her garden.  Planted inside the vegetable garden fence to protect them from deer, her sweet pea flowers were huge with long, thick stems; they certainly could have been winners at the Sweet Pea Festival flower contest!  Again, she had planted a green manure crop in this spot and tilled it in before she planted her sweet pea seeds.

Two of the gardens on this year’s tour were in the older part of Bozeman, close to the University.  One of the yards had a number of shrubs with edible berries—currants, gooseberries, and elderberries.  Elderberries, which grow easily here on a tall shrub, are rich in vitamins and antioxidants.  The smallest garden on the tour was on a small lot on South 7th Avenue, accented by its cute yellow house with an artist’s studio in the back.  It was apparent that this gardener is an artist.  A smooth steel border was used to create slightly raised flower and vegetable beds around the house for a clean, unfussy look.

One perennial that caught my eye in a couple of the tour gardens was ‘Red Shades’ Helenium (Sneezeweed).  Named for Helen of Troy, this perennial is tall and blooms profusely in a gorgeous fall shade of red-orange.  Helenium can tolerate heat and full sun.  Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium), not really a weed but an interesting perennial flower and medicinal herb, was planted in some of the perennial gardens.  Joe Pye Weed stands up taller (up to 6’) than other perennials with rose colored blooms that appear in late summer.  Heliopsis (False Sunflower) is another tall perennial that is blooming now with bright yellow flowers that last a long time when cut.

An unusual perennial standout in one of the gardens was Sea Holly.  This large perennial plant has spiky silver-blue blooms that are good for drying.  Scabiosa (Pincushion Flower) was also in full bloom for the garden tour.  One of the gardeners had a type of Scabiosa with large, deep blue flowers called ‘Fama Deep Blue’, beautiful in a cut bouquet.

Try planting these late-summer blooming perennials for color in your garden.  And if your vegetable or flower gardens seem to be losing vigor, try a green manure crop.  Plant it now, till it in before the ground freezes, and watch your plants thrive in your newly refreshed soil!

by Jan Cashman

The 2010 Garden Tour this July 9 and 10 went on after the terrible hailstorm on June 30 and the gardens looked beautiful despite the hail.  The gardeners who open up their homes and gardens for all to visit are generous to do so.  This year’s gardens were well-thought-out displays of what can be done in our landscapes, each one a little different.  Here are some ideas I took from some of the gardens:

  1. Plant natives: The growing trend towards hardy, drought-tolerant native plants was evident in the Jennings’ garden on Boylan Road.  They have planted their boulevard and a portion of their lawn into sheep fescue, a native, drought-tolerant grass.  This fine, low-growing grass has a soft, graceful, arching look to it, and needs little mowing and watering.   Under aspens in the native area of their yard, the Jennings have transplanted a Ceanothus velutinus (Buckbrush) from the wild.  This interesting low shrub, 4 to 5 feet across, has glossy, dark green leaves and lovely white flowers in the spring that resemble lilacs.  Another native shrub found in more than one of the gardens, Lewis Mockorange (Philadelphus lewisii) was in full bloom– 2 weeks later than average.  (All Bozeman’s flowering trees, shrubs, and perennials are late in blooming this year because of the cold, wet spring.)  Lewis Mockorange was discovered by Meriwether Lewis in Western Montana and Idaho on his journey west in 1803.  Its bright white flowers that smell like orange blossoms make this shrub a real attention getter when in bloom.
  2. Good soil preparation.  One of the biggest challenges the Jennings listed in creating their lawn and garden was lack of good topsoil, which had been covered by the builders and compacted during the building process.  If you’re building a new house or remodeling, have your contractor strip and set aside the good topsoil for later use, and, as much as possible, keep heavy equipment off the soil surrounding the house.

Lori Newman, another one of the gardeners on the tour, has completed the Master Gardener’s class, a great way to learn more about gardening.   This class is offered by MSU Extension every winter.  Lori attributes her gardening success in part to careful soil preparation.  Judy Ritter, a volunteer helper from the Empire Garden Club, commented on Lori’s method of planting flowers and shrubs on mounds.  Creating gentle mounds on which to plant your shrubs, trees, perennials, and annuals allows good drainage and control over the soil composition.  Compost, peat moss, and other organic matter can be mixed into the soil you use for your mounds.  Even though she’s used good soil, whenever Lori adds a new plant to her garden, she digs a “$50 hole for a $10 plant”, and then amends her soil with compost and peat most.

  1. Use Focal points.  Lori Newman has a rhubarb planted on the top of a berm, one of the biggest rhubarb plants I have ever seen.  Its huge size and large leaves provide an unusual focal point—and it’s an edible plant!  A mature Ohio buckeye tree in Terry and Dale Kennedy’s garden shades a big part of both their and their neighbor’s yard, definitely the center of their back yard landscape!  Becky Gibson’s favorite tree, a Japanese tree lilac, is the prime focus of her front yard.  On July 10 this tree was covered with fragrant white blooms.  Other gardeners made use of garden art pieces and water features.  The Gibsons used a round stock tank for a country-looking water feature near their fire pit in their cozy backyard sitting area.
  2. Shade gardens.  Almost every gardener on the tour had nicely planted shady areas; some have large areas of heavy shade.   Hostas and ferns were favorite perennials of these gardeners, along with some unusual shade plants.  Terry Kennedy has many varieties of hosta growing under their Ohio buckeye; her favorite, Hosta undulata, has variegated green and white twisted leaves.

Everyone was asking the Jennings about the plant just getting ready to bloom against the north wall of their house.  It is shade-loving Aruncus dioicus (Goat’s Beard), a tall, woodsy perennial with creamy-white, astilbe-like flowers which, on a normal year, will bloom in June.

  1. Share your garden. One of the nicest parts of gardening can be sharing plants with relatives, friends, and neighbors.  Many of the plants in the Jennings yard were given to them by his mother, an avid gardener.  Some, like their Ponderosa pine and bur oak, she had started from seed she collected.  Some of the other gardeners had prized plants and perennials which were given to them by friends and loved ones.  One person commented, “I remember the person who gave me this plant every time I look at it.”

From planting natives and perennials to soil preparation and garden design, each year we learn more about gardening from some of the Valley’s best gardeners who share their yards with us during the garden tour.

by Jan Cashman – July 10 & 11, 2009

This year, all except one of the gardens on the Emerson Cultural Center Garden and Home Tour were in the old part of town, with small lots that had mature trees, therefore, plenty of shade.The old neighborhoods of Bozeman are peaceful, quiet, and friendly.What a great place to live and garden!Although every garden was unique, these gardens had a lot in common.

Many of the gardens on the tour grew their vegetables in raised beds.Some of the raised beds were made with wood sides, others with brick or rock.Raised beds have become popular for Gallatin Valley gardeners, and for good reason: you can control the soil mix, the soil warms up quickly, and their height makes them easier to work.One gardener on the tour had made removable covers for her raised vegetable beds, a practical solution to late and early frosts and hail in our climate.

Perennial flowers were the mainstay of most of these gardens.Many of them used old-fashioned varieties of perennials, such as peonies and delphinium, to fit with the period architecture of their homes.Although the gardeners named a wide variety of perennialsas their favorites, shade-loving hostas were mentioned often.Other shade-loving perennials, bleeding heart, baptisia (false indigo), and columbine, to name a few, were found in their gardens.Shade-loving ground covers like sweet woodruff and snow on the mountain were commonly used.Clematis vines were planted in many of these gardens.Clematis needs the right spot to grow—a spot where the roots are cool but the top of the vine gets some sun.One of the homes on South 6th had over 60 varieties of clematis!

Most of the gardeners had flowering shrubs interplanted with their perennials.Dwarf spireas, lilacs, and honeysuckles are good shrubs to plant with perennials if you have a large flower bed to fill.Carol Mackie Daphne was a popular shrub with these gardeners who have plenty of shade and shelter.This Zone 4 small shrub has a strong, sweet fragrance from its pink flowers in May.The variegated foliage is striking.Carol Mackie needs cool soil and not too much moisture to thrive.Unlike a lot of shrubs, it prefers our alkaline soil.

Roses—climbing, shrub, and hybrid teas–were in full bloom and a staple in many of the gardens on the tour.(People in the middle of town don’t have to worry about deer eating their roses.)The fact that these gardeners are growing tree peonies, Japanese maples, rhododendrons, and tender hydrangeas tells us just how mild the climate is in this protected part of town, compared to outlying areas.

Lila Bishop took me inside her home to show me the view of her flower garden from her large dining room windows.From the onset, her garden was designed to be viewed from inside.What a good lesson in garden design!Stand inside and look out your windows before you plant anything—trees, shrubs, or flowers.

A few of the gardeners on the tour were artists and their creativity was reflected in their gardens.Susan Dabney has her eclectic art intermingled with her plant collection.Another artist/gardener had a unique way to label her plants—next to each plant she placed a small rock with the name of the plant painted on it.

Beautiful containers and hanging baskets full of spectacular annual flowers put the finishing touch on all the gardens.A high phosphorous water soluble bloom booster seemed to be the fertilizer of choice to keep these containers growing so well.

Most all of the gardeners, when asked whether they mulched and with what, said they used soil pep (ground–up bark) and most said they couldn’t get along without it.A hint of from one of the gardeners: wait to put down soil pep until late spring after the soil has a chance to warm up.Goat manure from the Amaltheia Dairy was popular with the gardeners—it is a good quality, pure, local product.

Where ever you live, I hope these hints from the expert gardeners on this year’s garden tour will give you ideas to improve your own garden.

 

By Jan Cashman

Before last year’s Garden & Home Tour put on by the Emerson Center for the Arts, the garden owners on the tour were asked to fill out an information sheet. Their answers are interesting to fellow gardeners. We want to know how the best gardeners in our valley garden, their favorite plants, and how they solve gardening challenges. Here are the questions they were asked and a synopsis of how they answered them:

What was your gardening inspiration?

It is refreshing to hear one of the gardener’s parents provided her inspiration. Hopefully, today’s increased interest in gardening will be passed on to future generations. Eating organically grown vegetables, which are expensive to buy, inspired one of the gardeners to start a vegetable garden. Another gardener said, “Once I started planting, I didn’t know how to stop!”

Who did your design? Did you have a master plan?

Most of the gardeners on last year’s tour had no master plan. Their gardens evolved over time. If they did consult professionals, it was most often for an individual area of their garden. Only one gardener on the tour had an entire plan drawn by a professional before she started planting.

Were there any weather factors that dominated your plant choices? What was your solution?

A couple of the garden tour gardeners mentioned wind as a problem. Solutions included planting tender plants on the leeward side of the house. Hedges and windbreaks provide shelter to a yard. Most of the gardeners said they chose only hardy plants for their gardens–those rated for USDA Hardiness Zones 3 or 4.

What was the biggest challenge with your garden?

The most frequently mentioned challenge was deer eating and rubbing on trees, shrubs, and other plants, a common challenge to many gardeners in our area. One of the gardeners on the tour said, “I wish I had planted deer resistant plants…I would put up a high deer fence from the start.” Gordon Bailey, Chairman of the Board of Bailey Nurseries in Minnesota, has had success in keeping deer away from his shrub roses and other deer favorites by a weekly spray of Liquid Fence deer repellant. After a heavy rain he reapplies as soon as possible.

Heavy clay soil challenged some of these gardeners. They add gypsum and compost amendments to improve the tilth of their soils.

Weeds were another challenge they listed–weeds are a problem to most of us gardeners. The garden tour gardeners keep their weeds from getting out of control by persistent and frequent weeding. One of these gardeners mentioned the importance of keeping weeds out of hedges. Some ways to do that include mulching, using weed barrier fabric, and using pre and post emergent herbicides early in the spring before the hedge leafs out.

Rocky soils, gophers, and winter injury were other challenges these gardeners (and all of us) face.

What are your favorite perennials and why?

The best gardeners in the valley followed the national trend of preferring perennials with colorful leaves and interesting shapes and textures such as shade-loving Heucheras and sun-loving Sedum spectabile. Some listed old stand-bys like peonies as their favorites. Colorful clematis vines, one of the few flowering vines for our climate, were also a favorite.

It’s no surprise that fragrant plants like Lavender were favorites. This wonderful herb does well in dry spots; its flowers can be dried for sweet smelling potpourris.

What are your favorite annuals and why?

Happy-faced pansies were by far the most popular annual flower of these gardeners because of pansy’s many colors and patterns. Sometimes this annual is a perennial-it survived the winter under the snow at my house and was blooming in early April.

What are your favorite trees and shrubs and why?

Their favorite trees and shrubs were those with four seasons of interest. Japanese tree lilac’s fragrant, white blossoms cover the tree in late June. The tree has an interesting shape which is especially apparent in the winter when the leaves are off. The dark bark and horizontal branches show up against the snow.

Amur maple, another favorite tree listed by more than one of the gardeners, is the north country’s answer to Japanese maple. It has bright red-orange leaves in the fall and a graceful, irregular shape. Bur oak and amur bird cherry were two other trees these gardeners liked.

Glossy black chokeberry is a compact, easy-to-grow shrub with fragrant white flowers in June, clusters of large, edible, purple-black berries , and colorful red and purple fall foliage. This underused shrub deserves to be planted more in our landscapes.

Carol Mackie Daphne continues to be a big favorite among gardeners. This small shrub has fragrant pink flowers in May, and then, red berries. It is best planted in a cool, shady, well-drained spot and prefers our alkaline soils.

To mulch or not to mulch?

Natural-looking shredded cedar was used for mulch by some of these gardeners. Most avoided landscape fabric. Soil pep was a favorite with these experienced gardeners, as it is for many of us.

To fertilize or not to fertilize?

Many of the garden tour gardeners chose to use organic fertilizers such as aged manure in their gardens. Some preferred slow-release Osmocote for their flowers; others preferred Miracle Gro Bloom Booster water soluble plant food.

Any lessons you learned to pass on?

“It’s OK to move plants around.” “Start small and expand your garden to only what you can maintain.”

The gardeners waxed poetic with these wonderful quotes: “Gardening is a satisfying experience.” “Gardening is constantly changing and forever growing-that’s what makes it so exciting and challenging.”