Observations on the 2009 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.