The Gardens

poppyA green thumb and artistic nature create an award winning country garden vision.

by Robbie Springs

One of the things I missed most when we were off on our 9 year sea voyage was working the earth. I've been a frustrated gardener for decades. My  wild choices of locations, Anchorage, AK to the South Pacific, have not been conducive to the year round gardening I saw growing up in Northern  California. Now, Montana is not year round, but the summer's long enough for magic to happen. So after all the wonderful comments from neighbors and guests, I decided to show the transformation of the exterior of our Hotel from our purchase in June, 2004.  The photo gallery on the right are  pictures of the garden transformations! All our hard work was recognized by the Stevensville Garden Club's Garden of the Year award in 2008 and the Stevensville Main Street Association's Exterior Enhancement Award in 2007. begining of the garden 8-04_

We chose perennials, bulbs, trees and shrubs  for the grounds. We started on the 3rd Street side, planting in late summer. Funny story: when we started ripping out the dead grass and weeds to plant, the mayor at the time stopped by and said, "You know, that's city property." Gene replied, "You don't mind if we plant some flowers and make it pretty?" "Well," he  gruffly replied, "I guess not, just remember it's not your property."

What we soon discovered is that under 2 inches of topsoil was a riverbed.  Stones from a walnut to a small child stuck together with a thin coat of  sandy dirt. Out came the heavy machinery, and we replaced the top 8 inches with new topsoil, and used a post hole auger to dig deeper for the Alberta Spruce trees. By the time we got to the Church Street side in 2007, we had the system worked out and the planting went faster. While the 3rd Street side had its challenges, being skinny and really long, and an inexperienced gardener too, the Church Street side was challenging in its size. I spent several months that winter researching plants, watching the Victory Garden and drawing up a planting plan. That looked great, but the  reality was that a good number of the plants I wanted were not available here. So back to the drawing board. One of the other projects we took on  was restoring the front entrance, with a wide staircase and handicap ramp.freshly planted 3rdst 2007

One of the questions I get asked a lot is where did I get my plants. I bought plants from home stores and specialty garden centers in Missoula, Hamilton, Victor and Stevensville. I even bought a couple of things online. What I envisioned was lots of different heights, textures and groupings of colors. I think now my plan was successful, except for my white garden. In spring, most plants have leaves but no flowers, so I trusted the little white plastic tags, and the baby plants growing next to the perennials I wanted to transplant when I put them into the white  garden. Imagine my shock when my black hollyhocks bloomed a brilliant magenta. That was followed by my white coneflower blooming a traditional pink. As a final touch, the following spring my white hawthorn tree bloomed with a distinct pink blush! So now it's my white and pink garden.

our summer bountyStarting in 2008, I concentrated on developing my kitchen garden. It's located out back of the Hotel, mostly hidden, except from the Dr. Rennick room, which has a double wide window overlooking the entire garden area.  Each year I have expanded this area a bit larger. It is a barely  controlled explosion of flowers intermingled with vegetables and berries. It is located in the warmest microclimate of the Hotel grounds. It is often 2-3 weeks ahead of any other spot and lingers late into the fall. Last year I harvested a huge number of tomatoes & garlic and was constantly making sauce in the first floor kitchen. It certainly got the attention of anyone walking in the door. I think I could have sold it all! I'm looking forward to next summer of course, and even more great gardening moments.

P.S. The strange yellow and blue house sitting in the garden bed is my  fantasy "bluebird hotel" that won 1st place in the SASS Birdhouse Contest in May 2005.

red tulips

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