I was raised by a lawn and garden perfectionist. Nary a dandelion to be found in my Dad's rolling Zoysia landscape. Trees were pruned to showcase the natural architecture of the branches - my Dad's sculptures were as beautiful in the winter as they were when wearing a full coat of leaves. His vegetable garden was just as meticulous, with ruler-straight rows and cages to keep those tomatoes in line.
Until we moved to our current home in Montana, I strived to be that gardener.
With the new construction associated with our log home, the landscape immediately around the house was a blank canvas. In the process of making other design choices, I must have thumbed through a hundred Log Home Living magazines. In most cases, the curb appeal of the featured homes was classic - manicured lawns, rock gardens with showy trees, and lakeside settings with trellises and gazebos. As tempting as it was, Spousal Unit and I knew that this was not the answer for us.
Retirement is to be enjoyed, right? So, for a start, Spousal Unit declared that his last lawnmower would not be coming with us. OK. Check. No formal lawn.
As for me, I would also want freedom in the summers for hiking, camping, kayaking -- well, you get the point. So, something low maintenance was in order.
Ever since we lived in Arizona, I have had an aversion to sprinkler systems. If one is needed regularly, it means the plants in the landscape are not native, not adapted to the rainfall that is normal for the area. That was it -- I wanted to go native.
"Water, water, water ... There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount, a perfect ration of water to rock, water to sand, insuring that wide free open, generous space among plants and animals, homes and towns and cities, which makes the arid West so different from any other part of the nation. There is no lack of water here unless you try to establish a city where no city should be." -- Edward Abbey
We are three years into this gardening adventure, and I am still learning. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a webinar entitled "Conservation Gardening: Landscaping with Montana Native Plants for Montana's Native Wildlife." Led by David Schmetterling, the webinar covered how to landscape with resource conservation, drought and wildlife in mind. His "laboratory" was a small city lot around his Missoula, Montana home.
I was enlightened. Going native is not just about the plants, but the entire ecosystem. Yes, even the insects, even those who want to eat my plants. He shared a story about paper wasps who score the bark of aspens to make their large paper nests. Aspen beetles use the scars to lay eggs. In the spring, as larvae hatch, ants are there to eat some of them. The tree responds to the scar by oozing sap, an early food source for butterflies before flowers are blooming. In other words, if I eradicated the paper wasps, I would impact three or more other species!!!
I resolved to look at my garden differently this spring. Insects on native plants would be left to their devices. Infestations on non-natives would be addressed.
Fairly quickly, I had an opportunity to test myself. On May 31, I observed some irregularity on the goldenrod, and closer inspection revealed this black and white caterpillar. (I put it on the rock only to get a photo.) You would be so proud of me - I left it there on the rock! Of course, anything living has to have a name, so I embarked into the world of caterpillar identification. Thirty minutes later, I was none the wiser. It could be an asteroid, the brown-hooded owlet, the camouflaged looper, the common pug, the striped garden caterpillar or the goldenrod gall moth. Didn't look like any of them! Spousal Unit suggested I give it a name, so Montanas Angelas it is!
By June 8, I had already lost my resolve, partly because Spousal Unit expressed a concern that the goldenrod would not flower properly. A few caterpillars were sacrificed, but I didn't touch the few aphids that I found on the goldenrod, or the spittlebugs with their cocoons of spit.
I can take some consolation in my approach to the golden currants -- I did not spray the aphids that massed on the fresh growth on May 31. And now I can report that the aphids are gone, with no apparent damage. Lesson learned!
I have written extensively in the past about my attempts to deter the deer and other critters. I believe I have finally found an effective solution. This sprinkler features a built-in motion detector, which prompts it to go off suddenly with two full arcs. I know it frightens me when I forget it's there and I wander into range! Four have been placed in strategic locations, and the deer no longer come into the main section of the landscaping. Of course, nothing is foolproof - a female turkey did a number on several of my chive plants by walking in between the sprinklers, C'est la vie - I'll take it!
Ever since the first time I saw lupines in bloom, I have been longing to have them on my property. Last May, Dear Neighbor Friend and I transplanted 27 lupines. As the summer wore on, they all seemed to die. It was a long shot -- everything I read indicated that lupine don't like their roots to be disturbed. So, I bought some lupine seeds, and planted them in over 35 spots around the garden. I have been so pleased with the results - all but four spots sprouted one or more lupine. AND, as I have been making my rounds, I have discovered that some of the transplants have grown as well!!!
From this seed-planting experience, I have also learned that it doesn't take much magic to get results. I tossed (literally) some seeds behind our jack-leg fence, and in an open area to the left of the fire pit. Both areas have yielded a bumper crop of baby lupines!!! They are tiny now, but in years to come, they will put on a majestic spring show!
With the benefit of hindsight, I might wish that I had not agreed to include non-natives in the landscaping. For example, the sand cherries have suffered die-back every spring. Last year, I carefully clipped a "diseased" portion and engaged Montana State University. The experts there advised pruning and sanitizing the shears after each clip. Well, here we are again with die-back. This year, I am going to leave it and see what happens.
Similarly, the Norway Maple has been on a slow downward spiral ever since it was chowed by elk the first year. This spring, it has not leafed out, and I am declaring it dead. We have not decided what will replace it, but you can be sure it will be a native plant!
Gardens can also benefit from structures for visual interest and texture. This summer, we have added "lawn art" in several locations. We are still looking for a large piece, to be placed in the middle of the leach field. In our mind's eye, we envision part of an old tractor, or perhaps a windmill from a dis-used ranch.
Jokingly, I often ask Montana natives how long you have to live here to qualify. They chuckle, and politely change the subject. So, when I read this sentence in the book "Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants" by Robin Wall Kimmerer, I was over the moon. "For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children's future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, material and spiritual, depended on it." Now that, my friends, I can do.
Welcome to Mosaic Monday, a weekly meme
where we get together to share our photo mosaics and collages.
Please include at least one photo mosaic/collage in your post.
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