Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Buttercups. They are back, and so is spring.

It is amazing what one nice day will do to inspire folks to get out and do some gardening. Around Missoula this weekend the near 50 degree weather got everyone out and it looked like someone kicked the anthill. Hypothetically speaking, no one kicked our anthill, nor the anthill at the native plant garden at 8th and Grant. FYI, that one is getting pretty big, and it moved! It now resides in the shelter of a brush pile we built last year.

Anyway, I digress, the signs of spring are all around and for those looking to foster their gardening thoughts, Saturday is the native plant workshop in Divide hosted by the Calypso Chapter of the Montana Native Plant Society (click here for more information). It is a beautiful drive and there will be lots of great speakers, seeds and native plants for sale. I hope to see you there.

It is FREE, but RSVP to Catherine Cain.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spring Cleaning in the Garden

(Special Guest Blog by David's Wife)

Spring is here and what better way to celebrate than by puttering around in the garden? It’s a good time to see actual plant growth (the new leaves are almost here) and do some tidying up. Here’s a recap of our Big Garden Clean Up Putter over at Home ReSource.

Sidebar: you may recall that David and I designed and installed the native plant landscaping at Home ReSource as volunteers. We think the world of HR and want the landscaping to reflect their mission of sustainable living.

Our tasks for the day:

  1. Pick up trash that had been hiding under the snow
  2. Trim back shrubs for better shaping
  3. Use the trimmed branches for creating (or reinforcing) brush piles for wildlife
  4. Install birdhouse
  5. Repair a bird bath

In the above photo, David installs a bird house above a landscape island in which the trash has been removed, shrubs trimmed, and a brush pile created. It went really well. If you live in Missoula, this is the time to clean up. It was fun seeing the staff at HR and they provided us with some good natured high school kids who were working off a community service requirement. So the whole thing went quickly and easily.

Here’s some more detail.

Step 1: Self explanatory. It’s depressing when the snow comes off to see how much crud was hiding under there for months. But it’s really satisfying to throw it away. Another positive note: David found my Leatherman Mini under some snow. I didn’t even realize I had lost it. Thanks David!

Step 2: David trimmed back unruly branches of Wood’s rose (it just makes them stronger- top photo) and snowberry (just for shaping purposes- bottom photo).

A few wayward branches of chokecherry, shrubby cinquefoil and Ponderosa pines got cut too. I want to stress that this trimming is for aesthetic reasons. Of course, these native plants do just fine out in the world without gardeners showing up to trim them. But when we use native plants in a landscape setting, it is perfectly reasonable to impose a little bit of order on them.

Step 3: The high school kids and I took all the branches and piled them for brush piles. These are nice little refuges for ground feeding birds, insects (like butterfly chrysalises) and who knows what else. There isn’t really any way to mess up a brush pile, but David has directions on his website: http://montanawildlifegardener.blogspot.com/2009/04/build-brush-pile-for-wildlife.html

Here’s one of the new brush piles, near Wyoming Street.

Soon creatures will be piling in there for refuge from all kinds of things (weather, stray cats, hungry birds). You know who loves a good brush pile?

The Mourning Cloak, Montana’s state butterfly. It spends the whole winter as an adult, stashed away in a brush pile somewhere.

Step 4: Install a bird house. If you want birds to nest in your yard this spring, PUT UP YOUR BOXES AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Birds are looking for nest sites now. Read more at


Here’s David installing a nest box above the parking lot at Home ReSource today. It’s mounted about 9 feet off the ground and facing east. It could be used by chickadees, nuthatches or wrens.

If you haven’t put up a bird house yet STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING and go over to Home ReSource, because they sell bird houses for native species made entirely out of recycled materials. They even come with sawdust (for stuffing the box, making it nest-y-er for birds) and an instruction sheet.

They have a lot of great garden items over at the Home ReSource ReVamp Store. In addition to bird houses, they have Mason bee houses, a big garden cart, and creative toys for the kids to play with outside (stick horses by Josh Decker).

Step 5: Repair the bird bath. Last summer David installed a bird bath made from a re-purposed light shade, and connected to the drip irrigation system so it was always fresh and full. Unfortunately the glass bath didn't survive the winter, so he made a new one. Also out of glass. We'll see how it goes. Bird baths are one of the best things you can provide for birds, especially in winter.

As you can see from the photos, it was a pretty grey day here in Missoula Montana. But it was fun to get into the garden and work. When you are up close with the plants, you can tell for sure that they are in fact growing.

We plan to have some clean up days at some other public native plant gardens around town, including but not limited to the 8th Street Pocket Park. So keep your eye out for updates, especially over on Facebook. Don't forget to LIKE us!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gardening with Natives Workshop, Update

How cool is this. Here is the updated program (In no particular order) from Catherine Cain president of the Calypso Chapter of the Montana Native Plant Society:

"Local Gardener's Favorite Native in Their Garden" Karen Porter, Pipestone

"Developing a Garden Blog" Catherine Cain, Glen

“Native Plant Garden Design and Installation” Kathy Settevendemie, Potomac

“Wildlife Gardening” me, Missoula

Plus: Heirloom vegetable & flower seeds, native plant seed packets, books, "Bee Motels" and native plants for sale

The whole event looks great, but one thing that really caught my eye is that Catherine is giving a talk at this workshop on how to start a garden blog! That is so cool and progressive. I have always thought that a place like Montana, especially more rural areas of Montana (and for those reading this outside of Montana, that might sound redundant), garden blogs are wonderful tools to share what is going on in your garden. In wide-open Montana, it's not always as easy as leaning over the fence to talk to your neighbor and compare garden notes... and that's a big part of enjoying gardening.

I am really impressed that the Calypso Chapter is taking on this topic, especially since many chapters don’t maintain their websites and haven't embraced the “new” social media like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs for sharing information, interacting with members and recruiting new members. It seems like recruiting new members is a big issue facing many chapters.

Like I mentioned in the last post, the event last year was really well attended and there was a lot of interest and enthusiasm. I am looking forward to this years’ program even more.

I hope to see you there.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Upcoming Native Plant Gardening Workshop, April 2 in Divide, Montana

Once again, I'll be giving a talk at the Native Plant Gardening Workshop in beautiful Divide, Montana, co-hosted by the Calypso Chapter of the Montana Native Plant Society and the Big Hole Watershed Weed Committee. Thanks again to Catherine Cain for organizing the workshop, this should be a wonderful event, on April 2. Last year about 80 people came out for the workshop and I look forward to attending it again.
My presentation will be a follow-up to the talk I gave last year and my talk will focus on gardening for wildlife, including bird houses, feeders (natural and home made), pest (squirrels, starlings, house sparrows, etc...) control, pollinators, creating habitat, and of course native plants.
Also, Kathy Settevendemie from Blackfoot Native Plants Nursery will talk about garden design, choosing the right native plants, proper installation, maintenance and pests.
And I am sure there will be a lot of great native plants for sale from Blackfoot Native Plant Nursery and Catherine Cain's nursery Southwest Montana Landscapes. Also, if it is like last year, there will be a lot of vendors selling things for the garden like seeds, including native plant seeds from Native Ideals Seed Company.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Montana Wildlife Gardener is now on Facebook

OK, so I am starting to get the idea that this Facebook thing is here to stay. I am not saying it will last, but apparently as of Feb 2010, over 400 million people were using it. I was not one of them. However, on a recent trip to explore the unique flora and fauna of the remote rainforests of Guyana, I learned my naturalist guide from a village of about 250 people, uses Facebook, I thought my blog and I should probably try it, too. Now you can follow Montana Wildlife Gardener on Facebook. Thanks, Alex Honorio.
Stop by and "like" the page and you can stay up to date with what is happening in my garden.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The buttercups are there- waiting

With most of the snow melted from the front yard (our short grass prairie), yesterday my wife and I did what animals and fire would do in the wild. We raked and cut back all the plants. We normally do this in the fall, but for whatever reason this year we didn't. And now that most of the snow is gone, I was eager to clean the garden up in anticipation of the spring ephemerals.

People always ask about maintaining the garden, and what to do with all the tall grass and seed head. Leave them or cut them back? The Answer is "yes". It is all about a balance. leaving the tall stems and seed heads add structure and interest in the garden through the winter. The seeds also provide food for birds and other animals. On the other hand, cleaning everything up (cutting thins back and building brush piles with the materials), leaves the prairie ready for the spring and the small, "under-story" early spring flowers will really shine. So it is all about maintaining a balance. Normally I cut about half or more of the prairie back in the fall and leave some grasses and forbs tall through the winter- just a way I find aesthetically pleasing.

Though last fall I didn't really cut anything back and this winter I've been a little stressed about getting all the leaves and grasses cut back. If left they form a mat and mildew or mold grows- until the summer that is, which is fine, but it really puts a damper on the spring ephemerals like the bitterroot (Lewisii redivia), sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus), larkspur (Delphinium bicolor), yellow bells (Frittalaria pudica) and shooting stars (Dodecatheon conjugens). In nature, or outside of 8th Street, grazers, browsers and fire would do this seasonally.

But in our neighborhood, we don't have elk, deer, and although there are periodically fires in our neighborhood (not good), I think the neighbors would frown on intentionality setting a prairie fire, though my wife and I do think about it from time to time.

So while cutting back the prairie temporally removes all the structure we've been seeing this winter- the tall bluebunch wheat grass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) stems, the yarrow (Acheillia millifollium) and blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata) seed heads and the tangles of blue flax (Linum lewisii), it does reveal the green new growth and as soon as we get a day of sun (and the snow that fell last night melts) the tiny harbingers of spring, the sagebrush buttercups, will bloom.