Master Gardener Interview – Joan Miller

Joan Miller was born and raised in Flint, MI along with her two brothers and family. Her parents didn’t have a garden but did have a nice yard. She taught school in Flint for two years before moving to the mountains in Jardine, MT to teach in Gardiner.

Joan planted potatoes and carrots in Jardine to help with winter stores, except one year a huge grizzly bear ate every carrot in the garden! She had a very good friend across the road who gardened and had a greenhouse. Betty Wormsbecker played a huge role in teaching Joan about growing a garden at 6200’ and first try at canning, which she still does every year. A master gardener program with Cheryl Moore Gough as the instructor was advertised in the Livingston paper; unfortunately the class was filled by the time Joan applied, so in 2011 she signed up for the program in Billings.

After teaching in Gardiner for 12 years and then Mammoth for 16 years, the Mammoth School was closed in 2008. Joan and her husband, Christopher, moved to Bridger, Montana. Christopher began building a fence for a garden with 11’x7” posts and large gates to accommodate heavy equipment. Remember they were used to gardening with buffalo, elk and bear. She had attended a class on square foot gardening at the Billings Public Library and chose that format for the new garden. Christopher made her 11 – 4’x4’ boxes and 3 – 2.5’x8’ boxes. She also has a 12’x32’ open area in the enclosure as well. Outside the fence is where the rhubarb, compost and more flowers reside. She was told by some “old- time” gardeners that only 85-90 year old ladies have flowers in a vegetable garden. Her brother-in-law practices “no till” gardening and she is trying to implement that method even though the old guys rototill their gardens every year and have beautiful produce.

It would be easier to list what Joan doesn’t plant, but her favorites are beans, carrots, potatoes, eggplant, cabbage, onions, cukes, tomatoes, acorn squash and raspberries. She loves sweet peas, sunflowers of all kinds, coneflowers, black-eyed susans, lungwort, Lady’s mantle, and geraniums (of which she brings about 20 pots into the garage for the winter). She also has roses as a living memory of her grandfather from Poland.

Joan has spent her volunteer hours at the Special K Ranch, Geranium Fest and Farmers Market. She is currently the president of the Community Bloom, Etc. garden club which cares for the flower beds and tubs at the Bridger Library. She also belongs to the Big Sky Iris Club.

To new members, she says “be brave” and try new things. You should also be prepared to put in the work (Joan calls it play for a better frame of mind) if you expect to garden. Whatever you do, do it with love…. planting, weeding, keeping things tidy. Your garden can become a place for miracles. Sounds like a perfect place for an outing. Thank you for sharing, Joan.


Submitted by Sheri Kisch