Montana’s Biggest Trees Registry

The Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation keeps records on the largest trees in the state. These trees have been cataloged as the largest representatives of their particular species discovered so far. From looking at past registries, it appears that most of these record trees are located in the northwestern part of the state.

However, many species of Montana trees have not yet been nominated and there is a special category for urban trees. There is no funding to support this program; its success is mostly dependent on the volunteer efforts.

Forms and technical directions on how to measure a tree for nomination can be found on-line

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Maybe like me, this will perk your interest in becoming a “Big Tree Hunter”. Is there a “specimen big tree” in your yard or neighborhood? Or, will one of us find a tree to nominate in one of our outdoor adventures across the state?

(By the way, if you really get into this, there is also a national big tree registry. http:// )

An excellent reference book on trees: Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.

Submitted by Elaine Allard

Mike Garvey Presentation on Historic and Unique Trees that can be Found in in Our Community

Mike Garvey has an intense interest in trees and has identified, photographed and studied over 15,000 trees in our area. Mike Garvey stressed the need for large long-living trees. Besides giving great shade, the trees make for a healthy environment – taking in CO2 and giving off oxygen. Their large root systems capture a large amount of run-off and prevent erosion. Large trees also increase property values. When you consider all the benefits of a large tree and put a price tag on its value, the tree can be worth thousands and thousands of dollars.

The majority of trees originally planted in our community represent a first generation of species that are nearing the end of their safe and useful life expectancy. Mike Garvey has documented and taken pictures of heritage trees in our downtown area that have been here since on or before 1900. For instance, the vase-shaped American elms currently growing on the Yellowstone courthouse lawn were planted in 1902. Also, Mike has done the documentation to get a catalpa, a ginkgo and a bristle cone pine tree that are growing in the Billings area listed in Montana’s Biggest Trees Registry.

Over the past 125 years countless heritage trees of Billings have died or are dying from old age, harsh climate conditions, disease and human-caused neglect. Garvey suggested that we should be getting clones from these long-lived and majestic trees. His thinking is that these trees have been able to survive because they have the genetics that match the environment.

Mike Garvey has noticed that landscapers and homeowners in the Billings area commonly replace the older dying trees with a limited variety of quick-growing, short-living, disease and insect prone trees with quaking aspen and green ash being some of the most overused. However, in his study and search to identify trees in our area, he has come across rarely seen species growing quite successfully. He showed beautiful photos he had taken around Billings of black locust, catalpa, white spruce, American Larch, Northern red oak, bur oak, redbud, Ginkgo, tulip tree, Kentucky coffee tree, American yellowwood, golden chain, Pierson ironwood, shellbark hickory, bristle cone pine, common pear, Ohio buckeye, purple robe locust, yellowhorn, hackberry, and autumn blaze maple.

Mike Garvey believes we should be optimistic and not let the weird storms that have hit our area in the last couple of years prevent us from planting trees. Also, he thinks we should be a bit adventurous and plant a larger variety of trees some of which are slow-growing but have fewer diseases and longer lifespan.

Mike Garvey’s study of trees has led him to pay close attention to the soil and how important organic matter, microbial activity and drainage are for the tree’s health. When planting a tree, he suggested leaving some of the clumps of dirt intact to help keep the microbial make-up of the soil. Overwatering interferes with the trees ability to respire and according to Garvey is the major cause of death for newly planted trees. Also he feels the need to have plenty of room for the roots to grow. He showed pictures that were taken in downtown Billings of newly planted trees on tiny boulevards giving the roots nowhere to go. (He called these tree coffins.) Mike’s talk was very informative and we came away with a wealth of information.

Submitted by Elaine Allard


People who spend a lot of time in touch with and learning about the natural world (like gardeners) soon become aware that nothing in a natural ecosystem is ever unused waste. What looks like waste—for example, animal droppings or dead leaves—becomes food for other organisms. Nutrients cycle round and round forever. Only in a man-made system do things become linear. There is waste—materials that do not feed other beings but go straight into a landfill or on the side of a road or into the rivers and oceans. And man is also the creator of plastic that, so far, no organisms can digest, so it seems that it will last forever, undigested and intact.

The following is an eloquent essay on this phenomenon printed in “Resurgence and Ecologist” magazine in the September/October 2016 issue. We would do well to choose to live under the laws of Earth and revise our economic laws to coincide with Earth’s laws. No better place to begin than in our gardens.

By Donella Meadows

The first commandment of economics is Grow. Grow forever. Companies must get bigger. National economies need to swell by a certain percentage each year. People should want more, make more, earn more, spend more—ever more.

The first commandment of the Earth is Enough. Just so much, and no more. Just so much soil. Just so much water. Just so much sunshine. Everything born of the Earth grows to its appropriate size and then stops. The planet does not get bigger; it gets better. Its creatures learn, mature, diversify, evolve, create amazing beauty and novelty and complexity, but live within absolute limits.

Economics says: Compete. Only by pitting yourself against a worthy opponent will you perform efficiently. The reward for successful competition will be growth.

The Earth says: Compete, yes, but keep your competition in bounds. Don’t annihilate. Take only what you need. Leave your competitor enough to live. Wherever possible, don’t compete: cooperate. Pollinate each other, create shelter for each other, build firm structures that lift smaller species up to the light. Pass around the nutrients, share the territory. Some kinds of excellence rise out of competition; other kinds rise out of cooperation. You’re not in a war: you’re in a community.

Economics says: Use it up fast. Don’t bother with repair; the faster you use it up, the sooner you’ll buy another. That makes the gross national product go round. Throw things out when you get tired of them. Shave the forests every 30 years. Get the oil out of the ground and burn it now. Make jobs so people can earn money, so they can buy more stuff and throw it out.

The Earth says: What’s the hurry? Take your time building soils, forests, coral reefs, mountains. Take centuries or millennia. When any part wears out, don’t discard it: turn it into food for something else.

Economics says: Worry, struggle, be dissatisfied. The permanent condition of humankind is scarcity. The only way out of scarcity is to accumulate and hoard, though that means, regrettably, that others will have less.

The Earth says: Rejoice! You have been born into a world of self-maintaining abundance and incredible beauty. Feel it, taste it, be amazed by it. If you stop your struggle and lift your eyes long enough to see Earth’s wonders, to play and dance with the glories around you, you will discover what you really need. It isn’t that much. There is enough.

We don’t get to choose which laws—those of the economy or those of the Earth—will ultimately prevail. We can choose which ones we will personally live under—and whether to make our economic laws consistent with planetary ones, or to find out what happens if we don’t.


Submitted by Ann Guthals

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

Master Gardener Interview – Nick Nicoll

Nick Nicoll was born in Scotland and lived there with his family until arriving in Boston at one year, 10 days old. He lost his two sisters at an early age and his father passed away at an early 47. His mother and brother are still living in the US.

Nick’s wife, Vicki, works in an accounting office and they have three children ages 29, 25 and 21. Two are working in art and the youngest is studying microbiology.

Nick returned to Scotland for a year when in the fourth grade and remembers his grandfather’s Victory Garden, the smell of the soil, the garden shed with all the tools and watching plants grow. He also traveled all over the world while in the Air Force, opening new ideas and learning from different countries. He likes to take classes and happened to see one advertised for Master Gardeners about six years ago. The information he gained about soil, amendments, compost and trees was just what he was looking for. He very much likes science and learning.

Nick is also a people person and enjoys meeting and working with other gardeners at field trips; classes; and the gardens at the Zoo, Metra, St. Andrew’s; and judging at the Billings Clinic Science Fair. He is a “tree guy” and found the classes from Master Gardeners on pruning, growing, planting and seeing the “old survivors” in Billings very useful.

Insects and disease are the most challenging aspects of gardening for Nick (you’re not alone). To have everything growing well till one morning you see white (powdery mildew) on the zucchini is disheartening. Nick has kept a log when gardening. He notes what was planted, when, where, problems and harvest. Is the plant worthy of trying again or not?

His favorite garden vegetable is Sweet Baby Girl tomatoes – the sweetest cherry tomatoes. He has also been growing Globe Thistles so that he can use their likeness as part of the logo for his business. The garden area and compost spot have had to move a couple of times in the past years to make room for sheds to hold wood that will be made into furniture and other items, his first creative passion. Nick is an artist and has recently started painting. I just had to ask the question from PBS’s “A Craftsman’s Legacy”, “Do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsman?” He is artist first and as a craftsman is able to bring his inspirations to life.

We are very lucky to have such a knowledgeable person as Nick with our Master Gardeners group.

Submitted by Sheri Kisch

Reflections on Winter…

“There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter. One is the January thaw. The other is the seed catalogues.” ~ Hal Borland


The winter comes: the frozen rut
Is bound with silver bars;
the white drift heaps against the hut;
and night is pierced with stars.”
– Coventry Patmore

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” ~William Blake

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.” ~ Andrew Wyeth

“Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year. For gardening begins in January with the dream.” ~Josephine Nuese

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” ~ Edith Sitwell

“Nature has undoubtedly mastered the art of winter gardening and even the most experienced gardener can learn from the unrestrained beauty around them.” ~ Vincent A. Simeone

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” ~Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass