What we started with and what we have achieved
Our garden began as 1 ½ city lots (40’ x 135’), covered with poor quality lawn, a doghouse, a kennel area (with waist high, noxious weeds), and the exposed soil of a dog run. There was no shade; there were no structures, and there were certainly no animals. We reduced the area of our yard covered in lawn from about 2,700 square feet to less than 250 square feet, and now have abundant small wildlife and visual interest.
We have achieved a lot in our 6 summers of gardening here. The various outdoor rooms heighten the sense of space and help us utilize the entire yard for much of the year. The spaces are people-friendly: we spend a lot of time outside eating, entertaining, reading, napping, and watching wildlife. Although the garden is intimate, it functions well for both small and large groups: we have hosted parties for close to 100 people. To accommodate such a range, many spaces have dual functions. For example, the potting bench functions extremely well as wine bar and the raised beds in the vegetable garden comfortably seats over a dozen visitors.
Apart from attracting wine lovers, the whole garden is also successful at attracting and supporting wildlife; we have seen over 50 bird species, including nesting chickadees and northern flickers. We have many species of butterflies and moths, including species that must feed exclusively on specific native plants while in their caterpillar stage. During a recent garden tour reception we hosted for the Montana Native Plant Society, the center of attention for the 50 or so guests was the sighting of several spectacular (4’ long) white- lined sphinx moth caterpillars. These large and unusual insects only eat evening primroses, of which we have many. Watching crowds of visitors taking pictures of these caterpillars illustrates how exciting it is for people to connect with wildlife, even small and unassuming wildlife!
Water conservation in our dry climate is important to us, not to mention the cost savings on our water bills. Our front yard has not been watered in 2 years and the established perennial beds have not been watered in over a year. We use less than 1/3 the water of an average Missoula household. Our goal of a variation on a cottage garden is achieved with plants that are ecologically appropriate and adapted to the area.
The community has been very interested in our approach to landscaping and our garden has been featured on several garden tours. Neighbors stroll by and linger in the public front yard prairie, coming by time and again to see what is currently flowering and looking for inspiration for their dry yards. The garden continues to fill in, and we have native plants sprouting up cheerfully in areas previously occupied by thirsty lawn and knee high weeds. By using plants that are adapted to the climate, native plants thrive and appear to be lush, despite no irrigation. We are proud of creating a short grass prairie garden that is beautiful to the eye, functional for our lifestyle, attractive to our local wildlife and the arid climate in which we live.