Local Gardeners and Master Gardener Steve and Kelly Pottenger

Jim’s Jungle has been a fixture in town for many years. Recently, as current owners, Steve and Kelly Pottenger, sat down with me at the end of a hot day in the fenced nursery location in front of the West Park Shopping Center, a shopper asked Kelly if they still had new plants coming in. With new plants coming in through the middle of June, I agree with the nice lady – even at the end of the planting season when the garden is stuffed full, it’s still hard to stop coming here to buy plants.

The name of this place is actually Potager’s Jungle, but it is hard to bend a great tradition to fit changing times. Potager is an Old English gardening term that these folks would like customers to become accustomed to as they settle in to the location they hope to make permanent. While Steve, Kelly, and their two kids Katie and Skyler bring years of knowledge to the colorful oasis among the pavement and cement along Grand, they are quick to explain that at home the environment is even more challenging to garden. I wanted to know more about that.

Steve told me right off the bat that at home “the water is not good, the soil is not good, the wind is nasty.” Our place does not look like this, he said with a swoop of his hand. While I can relate to those challenges of rural Montana gardening, I couldn’t imagine desolation where this kind of gardener lives. Of course they garden successfully – they figure out what is most hardy for this area when they take the last of the crop home to plant in those rough conditions. The plants that survive there are the toughest,
and prove to be what they recommend to folks next year that will take whatever the Montana summer can dish out. They have hanging baskets of colorful flowers and mix their own soil for pots full of vegetables, which last year they brought in to the sunny south window and enjoyed tomatoes in the living room all winter!
What are their favorite plants? That was hard for them to pin down, but Kelly’s favorite is gaillardia. She did say when she gardened in the Kalispell area she loved the begonias and dahlias, too. They just aren’t as well suited here. Steve enjoys all plants, but perennials in particular. He gardened in Reno for many years before returning to Billings.

Where did they get the willingness to experiment in these harsh Montana conditions? Both Steve and Kelly grew up with gardening dads and even while doing those unloved weeding chores never gave a second thought to the natural ebbs and flows of the backyard landscape. Kelly spoke of an activity at the local YMCA where she was able to introduce kids to their first experience with gardening. Realizing that there are so many kids who don’t grow up with that kind of daily practice made her appreciate what she had learned from her folks. It makes Steve and Kelly happy to encourage people of all ages to get in the backyard and grow things, and they see many younger folks coming to buy plants to produce their own home-grown food.

They are teaching new generations side by side with their own kids. Katie and Skyler are learning all aspects of the nursery business and have integral parts in the family operation. Steve says Katie is great at the till, and Skyler is a very reliable ‘yard’ man, helping customers and keeping the area running smoothly. They are also learning to practice safety – Kelly and Steve make sure everyone that works in the nursery use good gardening habits: stay hydrated, have access to shade and takes breaks in a cool, protected environment, and be mindful of using good tools and proper clothing.

Steve told me that one of the things he wants his fellow Master Gardeners here to know is how grateful he and Kelly are for their help on Saturdays in May. Handing out the leaflets with gardening tips and taking the time to have conversations with beginning gardeners is a wonderful treat for their customers, and they love to see people become even more interested and confident with the insight from the Master Gardeners who help out there. I let them know that as a Master Gardener I appreciate their business and having access to vibrant healthy plant materials delivered with a smile and thanked them for a lively interview!

Submitted by Corinna Sinclair

GARDEN TIPS

Be sure to water trees and shrubs more deeply than the lawn.
Don’t fertilize trees and shrubs after June, it will be too late for the tree to utilize before fall.
Start a trench in the garden for kitchen scraps, no meat or fats. Cover with a little dirt and let decompose.
Collect everyone else’s bags of leaves to add to your trenches or compost pile.
Clean, sand and oil all wooden handles (with BOILED LINSEED OIL) before putting away for winter.

The Zen of Gardening by David Wann

I marvel at the lush gardens I see on gardening shows and admit to a bit of
“green” envy. Unfortunately, those shows and gardening books for the humid
eastern U.S. do not help me much here in Montana. Instead I seek out advice
from gardeners who create successful gardens in our challenging conditions out
west.

David Wann is one such gardener. David began gardening at 7000 feet outside
Denver in the early 1980s. He has faced the same drought, wind, heat, cold, hail,
poor soils and short growing seasons that we cope with here in Montana. He
has distilled decades of experimental gardening and many lessons from masterful
gardeners that he has interviewed and worked with into this book.

Mr. Wann covers a very wide range of topics from mulching, choosing natives,
starting seeds, growing garlic, producing food in the winter to planting trees,
shrubs and perennial flowers. The novice and the seasoned gardener alike will
find great information here. As I read the book, I started a list of useful tips that
I plan to implement in my garden, such as mulching potato plants with pine needles, feeding my strawberries with compost and bone meal, using different methods of seed-starting to meet the varying needs of seeds, growing hairy vetch as a cover crop and companion plant to tomatoes, and trying the adage “When cottonwoods bud, plant the spuds.”

This book is not a story that you can read through like a novel. It is more a reference book and can be read gradually or used as a go-to source for specific help. One philosophical approach I particularly like about Mr. Wann’s gardening is that
there are lessons in failures—gardens are an experiment that we learn from every year. That is one of the things I love about gardening—there is always something new and useful to learn. And I definitely learned a lot reading The Zen of Gardening.

Reviewed by Ann Guthals

DELANE LANGTON IRIS TOUR

On May 23, a dozen Master Gardeners embarked on the grand adventure of finding the Delane Langton home to tour incredible iris beds he’s cultivated. Last year we were about a week too late…and this year porbably a week too early, but there were still plenty of blooms to enjoy even though, it was a beautiful evening for a tour.

Delane has quite the location. His home is perched on a hill, with gardens cascading over the top and shoulders of the hill. Then he points out another acre over the side that more iris are nestled into. Delane (now retired), is expanding his hilltop garden even more. He explains that the different slope orientations provide for an extended blooming period, the south side blooming first and then the north side blooming later.

The colors and variations were quite impressive, complete with some heirloom varieties. He also has a Moss Mansion iris bed, cultivated when an iris bed at the Moss was removed because the tree’s shade was too intense for iris growing. He took the pathetic looking rhizomes, planted them, gave them some TLC and now has iris plants he proudly claims are Moss Mansion originals.

Also, we learned that when he divides his iris, he doesn’t dig up the whole clump. He usually digs up the mother (or the one that bloomed last year), with the daughters that are on one side, leaving the other daughters in place. He’s had the unfortunate experience of digging all, dividing, and losing all.

I know I’m planning to divide my iris differently than before…and am going to plant the extras on our dry, rocky hillside surrounding our property. I’ve always  marveled at the iris growing on the rims going up to the airport. I now understand and appreciate even more how hardy and tough these beauties really are.

Iris Tour 2 2017

Photos and submission by Amy Grandpre

Here’s the Dirt!

 

Have you tried to grow a hanging basket filled with petunias in hopes it will be a big ball of flowers like the nurseries grow but with little to no success? If so, I have a real easy method to share with you. You will need a 14” across hanging planter/basket with good drainage filled with potting soil, slow release fertilizer and five 4 1/2” “Supertunias”. Why supertunias? They are self-cleaning and they can grow 3 ½ feet in one season. When buying your plants make sure that each one has a bloom so that you are not surprised if you are going for a “one color basket”. Pick plants that are a nice healthy green color. My personal favorite source for finding 4 ½” supertunias is any ACE hardware. They have a local supplier who grows them and offers a variety of colors. Once you have your plants, add your fertilizer and plant one plant in the center of the basket and the other four around the edges. Water in the plants and hang. After a few days pinch back any blooms on the plants. This will force the plant to set strong roots and fill in quickly. Pinch back blooms a few more times depending on how big your plants are or how fast they are growing. The three most important things to growing this type of basket are sun, fertilizer and water. During really hot days you may have to water your baskets twice a day as water is essential to the health of your basket. Later in the season you may have to trim your basket if it gets a little leggy. You can trim the bottom flowers to meet the bottom of the planter. Even though supertunias are self-cleaning, I do clean mine up and may trim a little along the way. If you have no place for a hanging basket, you can use the same process for a small planter that sits on the deck. Happy Planting!

 

Submitted by Donna Canino

 

Photo credit Mississippi State University Extension Service

INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL DAYTON

After a solid winter in Montana that first warm spell is hard to resist. For some of us it’s the bright packets of seeds that start to show up in stores, for some the dog-eared seed catalogues, for others the smell of waking earth puts us right over the edge. We tend to seek out our favorite places to buy garden or seed starting supplies, and one of my favorites is Harvest Tech.

Harvest Tech 2017

When I first got to Billings (about six years ago) I worked down the street from Heightened Harvest. Since then that neighborhood, 1415 S. 32nd Street West, has changed a little (they have new neighbors) and so has the sign out front. Michael Dayton is now co-owner with his wife, Amanda Williams, and they’ve changed the name to Harvest Tech. Mike owned the business with his brother (its first location in the Heights opened about eight years ago) and in late summer last year bought out his interest. On my most recent visit I found the store to be as tantalizing as the first time I saw it.

I have a greenhouse background so on my first visit I couldn’t help but wish I’d lived closer to this place during those twenty years. One can set up a complete hydroponic operation with supplies bought here, but their real priority is natural and organic gardening. Mike kindly granted me a little impromptu time for a quick chat over the counter. I asked if he was a Master Gardener – he was immediately familiar with the program but he (like me until recently) hadn’t been able to put together both the time and the timing to commit to it himself. As I explained my role with the newsletter, we talked about our gardening roots a bit. Mike doesn’t remember NOT gardening, really – “Mom had a 2000 square-foot organic garden” at their home here in Billings, so it was just part of life growing up. He’s lived other places, too, but never really had the chance to garden anywhere but here.

Mike is an avid gardener of things to eat. His preference is to “grow small”, using pots and containers to conserve space and to give each plant the environment it likes best. I asked if he chooses specific species for container gardening, and he said he really doesn’t and that often he finds the fruits and vegetables, like his tomatoes, tend to be sweeter and more flavorful even though yields might be smaller. His eyes twinkled a little, and then I understood what he meant when he told me his favorite part of gardening was eating… He does prefer to start plants from seed but finds it difficult to stay away from the nurseries with all the new varieties and ready-to-plant starts.

We agreed that one of the most challenging things about gardening here is timing plantings with the shifts between winter and spring and spring and summer. Cold frames and the right protection can help, but one of those fast, late spring freezes can overwhelm your plans quickly and set you back to starting over. Mike mentioned that one of his peeves is wind, which can also wreak havoc quickly, burning tender leaves and drying out even the most carefully watered garden.

Mike likes to use automatic watering, called micro-irrigation when used specifically for pots and containers, to address the problems that wind, drought, and heat can dish up. This frees up time and helps him keep things balanced even in the extremes we can endure in our summer months.

I asked Mike what kinds of things he does to avoid the dangers of gardening, like blisters, sore muscles, bug bites, and heat stroke. He had to think about this one for a minute, as if it wasn’t something that he did on purpose. As we talked he realized that he does several things that probably make a big difference in keeping him out of harm’s way. He gardens in the morning and evening, avoiding the heat of the day, but if he has to be out later in the morning or into the afternoon he wears long sleeves, hats, and sunscreen. He wears leather gloves as a rule, as well as long pants and sturdy shoes. We determined this is probably why he isn’t bothered much by bug bites and stings, sore muscles, and other injuries.

I had a great chat with Mike, and I couldn’t help but look around the store and ask what he thought was going to be a hot item this year. It’s tomato blueberry seeds… Yep, I’ll be back!

Submitted by Corinna Sinclair