Linda Brewer Adjusts to Montana

Linda Brewer Adjusts to Montana

Interview by Bess Lovec
Linda and I survived Level 2 by a mutual strategy- laughter. We left one independent study session in a beautiful private home in Laurel more con-fused about material than when we arrived! We reminisced too about whatever happened to the folks that were there that day? Apparently some were as baffled by the content as we were. However, somehow we both managed to get through all three levels in 2015.

The challenges of gardening in Montana were her motivation to enroll in the Master Gardeners’ course, that, and “meeting other skilled gardeners.” She transferred here to opt for adventure when her employer, the U.S. Post Office, gave her the option. And challenging it was, after growing up in the gardener’s dream state of North Carolina. Her heart still lingers in that beautiful state, as she immediately shares that her favorite tree is the Dogwood (Cornus florida) of North Carolina, whose bloom is the state flower. Incidentally, at least 12 species of dogwood trees and shrubs exist, with varying appearances.

Linda began gardening when helping her mom with flowers. She has taken that thread all the way to employment as a gardener at the Moss Mansion, plus maintaining a few large yards around Billings for Blake Nursery of Big Timber. The lineage did not come easily or quickly, though. She volunteered for almost a year at the Moss prior to being hired.

Consider some of the sage, professional advice from this veteran of the grounds, “You plant it and keep your fingers crossed.” Upon further inquiry, though, her approach is not really that cavalier. She finds that her skills with horses translate to caring for growing plants. “The discipline of consistent care” for both animals and landscaping undergirds her continued success. Linda’s a worker who does not take short cuts, hence her success.

She longs for the MG training in the future to involve more hands-on instruction. “I learn better from a person” (than a video), someone to demonstrate and to respond to immediate questions. I guiltily slump in my chair, since the onus of this improvement to our program logically falls to those who have completed all three levels. Can some of us procrastinate accepting responsibility for yet another year? Or can the program create an incentive enticing enough for experienced MGs to actually teach newcomers?

Her profound advice for new gardeners again inspires loud guffaws. “Take the Master Gardeners’ course.” Even after giving advice on how we do what we do, she’s a devotee. Her goals for the upcoming season include raised garden beds created with apple boxes. First she must add false floors to the boxes. Also she has enrolled in the Naturalist pro-gram offered at the Audubon Center, spurred on by her giggling buddy. I learned about it from former Naturalist attendees Ann Guthals and Ann McKean. Will you join us noisy gals in the back of the room? Let’s begin digging deeper.

Whirling Carrot-Top: Valeria Jeffries

by Bess Lovec

Give this gal a hurdle and she will either bulldoze through it or climb over it. For instance, when I interviewed Valeria Jeffries, she had just finished her first marathon. Not only did she complete it: She finished best of class in her age group (admittedly due to the help of Dr. “Joe”). She bonked due to the heat, yet recovered enough to finish. One of the perkiest people I have ever met, I’ve known Val for years through the Yellowstone Art Museum, where she served as Chair of the Board. She just radiates energy, even though she’s very busy as a regional executive with Holiday stores. I felt a surge of excitement when I saw that she enrolled in the Master Gardeners’ program the year I did.

How does she do it? Gardening overlaps with most of the six roles she wishes to improve upon: leader, gardener, chef, athlete, artist, and as a spouse. Allen and she have five acres by the Yellowstone River that provide numerous opportunities for creative gardening. Allen has a salsa garden of tomatoes, cilantro, and peppers among their four raised beds. Another is of wild flowers. Plus they have a pond that Val surrounds with a variety of bulbs. “I always enjoy plants” she shares. Carrot topWith her fast-paced career involving lots of travel, Val makes time to walk through nurseries to reduce stress. Unfortunately their property was hit by the recent hailstorm, but with her can-do attitude, she brushed off the property and views the changes as an opportunity for growth. Even though her car was totaled along with six windows and two roofs, her thoughts go towards the farmers struck by the devastation.

Her gardening days began in Minnesota when her mom sent her and her siblings to the garden to pick fresh vegetables. Lately Val finds joy in companionship gardens, in which gardeners share plants with other gardeners. She hosts the Master Gardeners booth at Pompey’s Pillar’s annual event and also volunteers with Chris Smith at Jim’s Jungle every weekend in May. Chris and Val first met when providing advice at Lowe’s.

Her praise for the MG program overflows, but her highlights include getting to know other gardeners and learning specifics about soil types, fertilizers, the essentials. She values Amy’s ability to build community. Val calls herself a Master Learner rather than a Master Gardener, although, based on photographs she shared, she’s both! The only area of improvement that she hopes will evolve for the MG program? Improved, updated videos.

She’s flummoxed by begonias but has found success with black-eyed Susans and bulbs. Next Val plans a shade garden on her back patio and, potentially, grapevines. She feels her best accomplishment as a gardener is yet to come. Her advice for new gardeners radiates wisdom! Volunteer, keep reading, ask questions, and participate. That formula sounds ideal for success in any endeavor.


Featured Master Gardener – Donna Canino

I am a level three master gardener who did not get started gardening until later in life. Growing up we did not have much of a garden and when we did it was rhubarb and a couple of vegetable plants, although we did do a lot of canning. It was my trips to Minnesota each summer to visit my grandparents where I was exposed to the world of growing. My grandfather grew a beautiful vegetable garden, trees that he grafted, the best compost set up and a long row of fragrant peonies that happens to be my favorite flower. After my grandfather’s passing I was honored to be given his garden books, which contained some of his notes on gardening and grafting.

As a young adult I briefly lived on a scallop farm in Hokkaido, Japan. This northern island is rich with agriculture and is best known for milk cows, rice paddies and local gardens. I learned a lot about the way they preserved food in open crocks filled with brine, drying fish and kelp on large wooden pole racks set out in the sun for it to do its job and how to farm scallops from the ocean. I was asked to get some seeds for my hostess. Regular eggplant and giant pumpkin seeds were requested. I assume that there was some local competition going on amongst the gardeners as in the fall there would be large pumpkins set out on to the main highway at the entrance to each gardener’s driveway for show and tell.

In my early thirties I finally began to grow a garden. I remember when I harvested and ate my first green bean I was hooked. Since then my gardening has evolved and I find myself wanting to grow a garden of only flowers that I can cut guilt free and fill my house with and leave my flower beds full of color. Each year on vacation I try to fit in a trip to a botanical garden. Over the years I have collected ideas that have inspired me to create a Zen themed garden in my backyard. Last year I planned a special trip to Seattle to pick up a few outdoor statues to start off my Zen garden. I feel so lucky to have had all of those previous experiences growing up. It has helped me to appreciate and enjoy gardening and all of the possibilities it offers. Since I became a Master Gardener I have learned a lot and have met some really great gardeners. One of my favorite things about gardening is learning from others and the way it brings communities together.

Submitted by Donna Canino

AnnaMarie Linneweber Shares Her Story

by Bess Lovec

Eight yellow jackets stole AnnaMarie’s career as a professional gardener. She reached behind a railroad tie to pull weeds, and they nailed her forearm, which swelled to twice its normal circumference. The swelling even went halfway up her upper arm. If toxins had made it to her heart, she would have missed this interview and the past three years.

She has been in and out of hospitals more than a dozen times, and even more times to emergency rooms, but not just due to the bites. AnnaMarie has suffered heat stroke twice, making her even more vulnerable to falling prey to that condition again. So she is wisely poised to give advice: “Hydrate, and take breaks, even if you don’t think you might need one. Use electrolytes. And get to medical help ASAP if you’ve been bitten by yellow jackets.” I repeat her mantras throughout the day, since the combination of medical events wiped out her immune system. She gained a close-up view of gardening’s underside that I hope my readers can avoid.

In 2014, AnnaMarie completed all three levels of Master Gardeners. She encourages everyone to take all levels for the diverse knowledge each course provides. She worked as a gardener at the Moss Mansion and for various families, plus volunteered at the Zoo and with veterans at Veteran Hall. Master Gardeners provides hope for humanity, in her eyes, and the variety of people plus camaraderie are its biggest strengths. She thinks the focus going forward should be to teach people to garden their way, providing support for a variety of paths, with the value of sustainability.

She adores many perennials, such as gay feathers, Jupiter’s beard, and coneflowers, but she wonders about the future of perennials in the face of climate change. Zonal maps might be outdated as soon as they’re published! AnnaMarie touts the virtues of annuals because they are easier to maintain than perennials and can be changed every year. Exactly what she loved about gardening is what she misses… the physical exercise, sweating, and dirt. Her creativity has shifted to painting and jewelry making. Her new activities help her brain heal and improve her balance and coordination.

For newcomers to gardening, AnnaMarie recommends that you buy a few good books, such as the Taylor series, and don’t get too big too fast. If you’re part of a large, commercial project, make sure an overall plan exists, both to keep volunteers engaged and to avoid waste. And catch the documentary Wasted by Anthony Bourdain about how indigenous peoples use what we frequently consider waste. I can’t wait to hear more great ideas from this true Master Gardener!

Featured Master Gardener ~ Joy Stevens ~

With a professional career ranging from being an engineer, an attorney and
presently a naturopathic physician, it is easy to deduce that Joy Stevens is a
driven person with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. This curiosity for
insight and additional information led her to sign up for Master Gardener classes in 2013. Unsurprisingly, she completed her Master Gardener Levels I, II and III within one year!
Joy finds that what she has learned in her Master Gardener classes has become part of her life and way of living. “You just do, it’s subconscious,” she says. She believes that the foundation of health includes a clean diet, curbing stress, and being physically active. As such, she eats organic food most of the time, gardens to de-stress,and engages in activities like karate and skiing. She knows that plants contain powerful medicine, so she grows many herbs in her yard for personal consumption. In her naturopathic practice, she administers botanical medicine as a tincture, as a tea, or even topically. After one of her beloved dogs contracted cancer from pesticides in the grass, Joy decided to make her large backyard pesticide- and herbicide-free. She applied her Master Gardener know-how on what fertilizer to use or add to help control unwanted plants in her backyard. “I enjoy weeding and feel the need to get soil in my hands,” she says. When Joy noticed ants on her trees, she concluded the presence of aphids and released ladybugs to take care of the pest. Integrated Pest Management at its best!
Joy’s orchard of fruit trees in her yard brings her much satisfaction and amusement. When her critter camera revealed evidence that her pear tree attracted deer, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and porcupines to the ‘pear buffet’, she decided to plant more fruit trees so that the animals would have some food to forage in the fall.
Joy is an active volunteer and coordinator for the annual Science Expo, a regional science fair organized by Montana State University and Billings Clinic and affiliated with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, where students from grades 1-12 compete for prizes and scholarships. For her, this is an ideal way of giving back to the community and getting kids interested in science and engineering from an early age.
Joy appreciates the camaraderie of fellow Master Gardeners and she participates in gatherings when time allows. She admires that fact that Master Gardeners are passionate about preserving the beauty of plants and are always willing to share their knowledge in helping people with any plant questions.

Submitted by Suri Lunde

A Master Gardener Cheerleader: Phil Painter

When I say Phil Painter is an optimist, I’m not referring to the local nonprofit club. Instead I’m sharing that he radiates positivity, which is always welcome as we fall headlong into winter! Phil completed Level 1 about the same time he began a lawn care/landscape maintenance business. He, like many Master Gardeners, combines his interest in gardening with his work life. His business has been so successful that he has little time to garden or volunteer, although his spouse gardens. This summer his wife had enough beefsteak and roma tomatoes, generated in pots, to give many away. She also raises herbs for cooking. The weekly weeding, though, falls to Paul. They plan raised beds for spring 2019 with a few intended goals: so the Chesapeake Bay retriever cannot dig their labors and to utilize less city water. In the past they have grown corn, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, squash, and broccoli.

He was included and even at times forced into gardening his parents’ 20×60-foot plot. His mother found the pursuit much more challenging in Harlowtown than her native California. Eventually he recruited her to the MG program, which she did in Helena. Sometimes knowledge flows upstream!

The welcoming, open format is what Paul cherishes about Master Gardeners. Prior to his enrollment, he struggled to find correct regional information, and he appreciated learning the why to many of his questions. Much of the prior information he was supplied, even locally, was opinion rather than fact, so he was hungry for accuracy.

He finds value in the attitude of sharing information plus the broad range of topics explored. He freely and frequently gives Amy’s number to customers. His advice to new gardeners? Call the Extension Office and sign up for Master Gardeners’ classes. We have a super cheerleader! He hopes the direction of the program will be towards youth, suggesting the Boys and Girls Club or Scouts, to give young people a sense of accomplishment. Even though he has little time to volunteer with our various activities, he has enjoyed observing the number of volunteer options blossom.

His company does not spray because to do so requires special licensing. This factoid alerted me to the notion that if a company does spray, the client might want to check on their licensing. I’m relieved that spraying necessitates licensing. Of course homeowners can spray at their own familial and pet risks.

We discussed brands of equipment, which I won’t endorse herein, and the services he provides: mainly mowing, then power raking, clean-up, and fertilizing with non-pesticide products. He only does sprinkler blowouts for his customers. For landscaping and tree pruning, he makes referrals. Wise enough to limit his scope of practice to what he can successfully manage, Paul devotes this time of year to blade sharpening and oil changes. Specific wisdom he shared with me included that there’s no need to water lawns until July (yards don’t like “wet feet,” aka wet roots), and the many lovely tall grasses so popular lately need thinning every 3 to 5 years. Also trim lilacs after blooming rather than eliminating new blooms in the spring.

So if you crave witness to one of the successes of our program, contact Phil Painter for inspiration and information!

Submitted by Bess Lovec