Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Montana native plant garden in a small city lot

Inspirations for our garden
We love the open prairies around Missoula, Montana, where we live and work. As a result, our garden is a variation on the intimate and informal cottage garden. It is our attempt to honor the arid short grass prairie, and its wildlife, by using only plants that are locally native species, but using them in arrangements that are equally attractive to people and small wildlife. We were inspired by prairie plants’ tenacity in surviving the intermountain west, a dry climate (13” of precipitation/ year), with short, hot summers and cold winters. We have found the aesthetic of short grass prairies is underappreciated and underrepresented in garden books and magazines and thus, presented a challenge for beginning one of our own.
One of the goals for our garden has been to expand our small house (900 square feet) and provide living space outside. We created a series of rooms that allow us to enjoy the seasons both while entertaining friends and while alone in the garden. Important to us was a garden that was ecologically appropriate for dry intermountain prairies of western Montana. Equally important are places in the landscape for people.
We also got inspiration from other gardeners in town and people we met through the native plant society, and were inspired by the National Wildlife Federations backyard wildlife program, which encourages homeowners to garden with urban wildlife conservation in mind. We wanted to avoid and eventually eliminate irrigation to all but our vegetable garden while providing habitat for native birds, butterflies and other insects. Implementing our vision of a wildlife garden in our neighborhood was a challenge, but ultimately rewarding. We live on a small city lot in the very center of town, without natural wildlife corridors that some of our friends and neighbors enjoy on the urban/ wildland interface.
We are avid outdoor recreationists- we enjoy hunting, fishing, hiking, backpacking, birding, cross country skiing, and are especially fond of the native plants we experience in the area. Plants often remind us of places we find dear: shrubby penstemon recalls backpacking the Bitterroot Mountains, fescues and sage are reminders of antelope hunting on the prairie. It is nice to come home from a day on a local river and find the same twinberry, redosier dogwood and wild rose in our back yard that we saw while fishing.

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