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.

Master Gardeners Fall Picnic

Master Gardeners Fall Picnic
by Amy Grandpre

The last picnic of the year (September 24th, 2019) was a lovely event. And even though it was very windy, we cozied up next to one of the Metra barns, making it most pleasant.

Extra special thanks to Brian Godfrey for his most diligent planning to keep our picnic gear all together and ready for fast access: his “Master Gardener Chuckwagon” is a most innovative idea and one I’m sure will get abundant use.021

Special thanks as well to Tom and Barb Kress, who brought a most beautiful platter of “Kress grown” tomatoes and onions for dressing the burgers (as well as many garden goodies to share), and to my honey, Tim, for flipping burgers and brats. And while I’m at it, thanks to all you cooks who put together food offerings for the picnic. We sure do put out a good spread for our potlucks – perfectly yummy.

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

25-Year Celebration of Master Gardeners in Yellowstone County

Billings Montana; MetraPark, 4-H Building; May 18, 2019
by Amy Grandpre
photos by Sherry Doty

[Editor’s Note: in previous posts and the printed newsletter credit for photos in this article was given to Amy Grandpre and Merita Murdock. Our apologies to Sherry for the mixup!]

Twenty-five years is quite the marker for an organization, and the best thing to celebrate when it involves dedicated volunteer service to our community.

JAS 02

The celebration was presented as a birthday party, with birthday party decorations, a HUGE card for all to sign, and a table filled with some 50 wrapped gifts, distributed during the event. And since it was a rainy, dreary day, a great day for gardeners to gather and enjoy an indoor BBQ potluck.

In 1994 it was a gathering of nine Billings citizens, simply interested in learning more about how to grow their yard and garden plants more successfully in our challenging Montana environment. JAS 03Those students present:

  • Annette Bayley
  • Johanna Freivalds
  • Bobbi Hylton
  • Diane Kostelecky
  • Joe LaRue
  • Berta Morrison
  • Merita Murdock
  • Evelyn Popelka
  • Edith Yapuncich

It was a very exciting time, as we were witnessing the beginnings of BIG technology. We gathered at Eastern Montana College (now MSU Billings) to experience something called MetNet Video Teleconferencing. This was one of several sites across the state, set up to host the first Master Gardener classes. Participants watched live classes, being taught by specialists in Bozeman… and the sites also had the ability to ask live questions to the instructors. This was a big deal.

We had a total of six classes:

  • Composting by Mike Vogel
  • Urban IPM by Sherry Lajeunesse
  • Insect ID by Will Lanier
  • Soils & Fertility by Jeff Jacobsen
  • Plant Disease by Jack Riesselman (still seen on Ag Live)
  • Horticulture Wrap-up by George Evans

We had three project/activities that year:

  • Master Gardener hotline
  • Plant exchange/potluck
  • Garden tour featuring our own Master Gardener gardens

Total 1994 Volunteer hours = 43

In 1998, Bob Gough picked up the program and under his watch and care it exploded. This man was passionate, witty, charming and just made learning fun. There was no snoozing in his classes, as he was a master at engaging his students.


Today, our program is an active 130-participants strong with hundreds passing through our program through the years. We have 25 active projects, and in 2018, Yellowstone County Master Gardeners logged 3,000+ hours. Total hours recorded since 1994 is 50,000, which is lean, as not all our Master Gardeners log their hours.

What made this event extra special were the guests who came from our past to celebrate with us. Among the most honored and recognized were three from our original class:

  • Annette Bayley
  • Diane Kostelecky
  • Merita Murdock (of course Merita is most active currently)

These three were gifted with Extension sun hats in appreciation.

Then several of our past Program Coordinators came to celebrate and were recognized as well. These included:

  • Ann Finley, 2002 Program Coordinator
  • John Levar, 2008 Program Coordinator, and wife Nan
  • Karen Lindeke & Ruth Sheller (now in her late 90s), 2004 Program Co- Coordinators
  • Ann Hillman, 2005–2014 Program Event Notification Coordinator

Other honored guests:

  • Dwayne Bondy, Class of 2000, was ZooMontana grounds keeper
  • Rosemary Power, Class of 2006


Master Gardeners present who have been with the program 8+ years were recognized:

  • Merita Murdock, Class of 1994
  • Mary Davis, Class of 2002
  • Tom Kress, Class of 2003
  • Vonnie Bell, Class of 2003
  • Ann Guthals, Class of 2007
  • Bob Wicks, Class of 2007
  • Sharon Wetsch, Class of 2007
  • Joann Glasser, Class of 2008
  • Sheri Kisch, Class of 2008
  • Dave Kimball, Class of 2009
  • Joyce Hendricks, Class of 2010

2019 Level 1 and Level 2 graduates present were recognized, and volunteer accomplishment awards were given to:

  • Sherry Doty: 400 Volunteer Hour Award
  • Fay Danielson: Level 3 Certified

A moment of silence was given to honor our Master Gardeners who have passed:

  • Roger Pitet (2003)
  • Jackie Bradshaw (2005)
  • Joe LaRue (2006)
  • Berta Morrison (2007)
  • Bob Gough (2011)
  • Vicki Thomas (2011)
  • Jane Howell (2012)
  • Shirley Spildie (2013)
  • Edith Yapuncich (2013)
  • Julie Halverson (2019)


A chalk art contest was part of our celebration activities. Bob Wicks was able to score some fabulous trophies for the event!

  • First place went to Annette Bayley
  • Second place to Linda Williams

Our celebration finished up with a long-awaited dedication of a Mock Orange tree to honor Dr. Bob Gough. The linden tree previously dedicated June 25, 2012, had perished due to a poor growing environment. Two plaques (made by Master Gardener Roy Wahl) were placed to mark the event:

Always In Our Hearts
– Yellowstone County Master Gardeners
Bob Gough “Dr. Bob”
“A Most Excellent Teacher”
Philadelphus coronarius (Mock Orange)
Dedicated May 18, 2019

Special thanks to Bob Wicks and Brian Godfrey for helping DJ the event, and to Merita Murdock and Debbie Wicks for making the delicious cupcakes that made the event extra special.

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!