For more than two decades on Monday mornings from early spring to late fall, Master Gardeners have been tending various gardens at ZooMontana as part of the Master Gardener Program, where participants volunteer time in horticultural related community activity to earn certifications or maintain good standing. For more information on volunteering at the Zoo, please call Amy Grandpre at 406.256.2828 or email her at email@example.com
This garden was the vision of Jane Reger. She was inspired by her husband who was losing his eyesight. She started a by-invitation-only horticulture committee in 1991 to create an educational garden to appeal to all the senses (sight, taste, smell, and texture). Starting with a flat plot of land which was dug six feet deep to form berms and memorial plants donated by visitors and supporters, the garden was (and still is) tended by volunteers from various local garden clubs and Master Gardeners. The garden now is filled with colorful flowers, plants, trees, a waterfall, and a fountain, and is a popular spot for picnics and weddings.
Julie Halverson, a Master Gardener since 1994 and a member of Sow and Grow Garden Club, has been volunteering at the Sensory Garden since its inception. She worked with Jane and Dwayne Bondy, a botanist/horticulturist at the zoo who designed the master plan for the garden. Julie said Jane would be so proud of how the Sensory Garden vision has been realized and how it has blossomed.
Working together with other Master Gardener volunteers throughout the years, Julie observes, “Maintenance is always an issue. There is a constant need of regular volunteers to maintain the gardens throughout the season. Too many Master Gardener volunteers come to fulfill their required hours to get certified and stop after that.”
As a testament to how much Julie’s generous contribution to the garden is appreciated, a Quick Fire hydrangea was planted on the south berm by the Yellowstone County Master Gardener Association in her honor when she was stricken with cancer a few years back. You can almost always find Julie at the Sensory Garden on Monday mornings.
Located between the children’s playground and the bald eagle aerie, this garden became the latest creation at the Zoo’s grounds in September. Claimed to be Montana’s first proper crevice garden, it is spearheaded by Sharon Wetsch and Teresa Bessette. The crevice garden idea came to Sharon at a garden conference she attended and she shared the vision with Teresa who procured the plants through ‘Plant Select’ in Fort Collins, CO at Colorado State University.
Crevice gardening is a technique of gardening where small hardy plants from the mountains or high elevations are tucked between closely-spaced rocks to create
miniature landscapes. Flat stones are partially pushed down into the soil vertically to create narrow channels that provide excellent drainage and help move moisture more deeply into the soil while keeping the soil around the plant crown dry so that they become drought tolerant.
The design of the garden utilizes flat stones repurposed from other projects at the zoo and driftwood collected from the Pryor Mountains by volunteers. The garden focuses on native plants and their viability to be grown locally such as cosmos, daisies, ice plants, wildflowers, sedums, and succulents.
This garden has been tended single-handedly by Teresa Bessette for the past seven years. Each year Teresa plants flowers of interest specifically for children (unique color, shape, texture), adds whimsical garden ornaments, swaps decorations according to the season, and builds colorful bird houses which she hangs from the oak tree. Originally, the site had a pond (the elephant statue is a holdover from it) and a few trees.
Upon seeing the large tortoise, zebra, monkey, and giraffe statues also in the area, she decided to convert the area into a Children’s Garden. She has since created a charming fun garden consisting of a central berm with a featured design that changes every year and five planting beds with numerous colorful flowering perennials, annuals, grasses, shrubs, and trees, amidst benches and stone seating for children and adults to enjoy.
This garden is located on a slope at the main entrance of ZooMontana and was adopted by the Shining Mountain Chapter of Daughter of American Revolution (DAR) in 2015. Fay Danielsen, a member of the DAR, finds tending the Flag Garden personally meaningful. She became a Master Gardener in 2016. Appropriately, the garden focuses on a patriotic red, white, and blue color theme throughout the season with annuals and perennials like geraniums, salvia, daisies, and roses. A couple of issues that the garden is facing due to its location: making sure it gets enough water especially on hot days and gophers.
In 2018, a trio of volunteers, Beth Adams, Sherri Porter and Lisa Salisinski, adopted this garden as their own. Located by the Homestead House and Homestead Barn, the garden has been neglected and overrun by grass and weeds. The ladies weeded the area
underneath and around the catalpa tree and planted heirloom flowers and perennials that grow well in the shade. In addition to clearing the path along the garden shed and the sidewalk towards the rabbit hutch and chicken coop, they also weeded and edged the south and west parts of the koi pond and took on watering the potted plants by the Homestead School House entry.
Just outside the Visitor Center doors is a garden previously known as the Triangle Garden. It is now called Chris’s Garden, in honor of Chris Chauvin, who volunteered in the Sensory Garden for many years until she passed away in 2017. A bird’s nest spruce is planted and a plaque installed within the garden in memory of her. The area showcases
multitudinous daffodils and tulips in the Spring. Various Master Gardeners tend this garden and are revamping the area around the memorial Norway Maple to make it appealing all year round and yet accommodate the Zoo’s resident peacocks that rest there.