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!