Featured Master Gardener – Jo Lamey

Jo Lamey Gardens in Briarwood: an interview by Bess Lovec

“Oh gosh,” Jo gushed as soon as I asked her when she started gardening. Her dad had her picking apples and shelling peas before she can remember. She still practices giving away produce, currently rhubarb, as her father did with their neighbors. I hope to be at the top of her list for rhubarb next spring!

Jo acknowledges that soil in the Briarwood neighborhood differs greatly from west Billings, though, where she grew up. Her parents had an acre of vegetables, but Jo and her spouse abandoned attempting to grow vegetables south of Billings. Briarwood has a clay-based soil and sits at a higher elevation than most of our town, so acknowledging our microclimates proves worthwhile. Before fencing the deer ate everything, and Jo and her husband amended the soil for years and still do. Now they focus mainly on flowers, both perennials and annuals, and at this point boast 16 flower beds. Veggies they acquire at the Farmers’ Market, where Jo also volunteers at the Master Gardener (MG) booth.

Her most recent perennials are astilbes, which, she notices, thrive just about everywhere, such as in North Carolina and Colorado, and they burst forth too in Lamey 2Briarwood. She also is captivated this season by an annual called a monkey plant from a vendor in Laurel. Neither of us could muster the scientific names of many plants we discussed. Her father inadvertently left her a buckeye tree, producing poisonous nuts rumored to cure rheumatism when carried in pockets rather than digested. Jo shared a photo of what I initially thought was a spirea bush, but it’s called a butterfly bush, producing small white flowers. Clearly a visit to Jo’s yard would be a field day for someone wanting to formally categorize a broad variety of growth.

She includes ubiquitous flowers in the flower beds: marigolds, geraniums, and zinnias, while punctuating them with hydrangeas, dahlias, and cannas. She just stores the canna and dahlia bulbs with newspapers in a cool place over the winter. Lamey 1

I’m surprised that hydrangeas came back for her, but she shared that they are in a sheltered, easterly location. It’s amazing that she is not even retired while doing such extensive gardening! Jo is particularly busy in this election season. Having trained at MSU and at Notre Dame, she has an independent company that performs market analysis.

Jo adores Amy Grandpre’s leadership style in the Master Gardeners’ program, and she enjoyed the instructions of Bob Wicks and Corry, when she was enrolled in classes. She really has no complaints or suggestions about the program. Jo likes the Christmas gathering, volunteering at the fair booth, and recalls fondly a tour to a private garden in Park City. She prioritizes her appreciation of learning pruning skills. She no longer kills trees or shrubs. And the camaraderie of being with other gardeners cannot be underestimated.

Like any great gardener, Jo has her share of disasters. Her eight orchids got mites that could not be overcome, and now, with her abundance of healthy trees, she has perhaps too much shade, although the moss proliferates. Her roses are struggling this season while the majority of other flowers flourish. This season really prospers from all the recent moisture. Miracid and Soil Pep rise to the top of her list of helpful products. One inch of soil pep holds down her weeds.

Her advice to new gardeners: “get out there and try new things.” Yet Jo wisely recognizes that the benefits grow well beyond the obvious garden itself. Gardening helps her decompress and meditate. The earth and our relationship with it are reciprocal, or maybe even unbalanced. I know my garden gives back to me far more than I give to it, and Jo radiates this sense of joy when you meet her. I hope you do soon!

~Featured Master Gardener ~ Pat Morrison

Energy Creates Energy

I visited Pat Morrison on a frigidly cold day in January, when the snow was up to our hips. Pat’s driveway, though, was shoveled, spotless. I assumed a service did it for her, but she does her own snow removal and gardening at the age of 84. The snow blower helps, and she handles mowing, too, in summers. With an energetic step needed to main-tain her yard and keep up with her new puppy, Pippin, Pat’s bright, inquisitive eyes shared her gardening experiences.

She started gardening “when I was born,” she reports, chuckling. Her mother was her primary influence in what is more than a hobby to Pat. She grew up in Portland, Ore-gon, a moister region than here (and few are not), so her main challenge in Montana is dryness. Pat often waters houseplants twice a week.

I had trouble seeing her yard for the snow but soon discovered that the gigantic snow mound in the front is actually a berm that her daughter, Billings Master Gardener Joann Glasser, helped her build. Pat’s favorite plants are flowers, and they abound in her home. She keeps a poinsettia thriving after three years, and her Christmas cactus was blooming. She successfully winters geraniums, after trimming them in the fall, and African violets pro-liferate under her guidance. Pat’s flower repertoire even extends to silks. Her kitchen/ dining area feels more like a greenhouse than an eatery, and I doubt she staged it. This spring I hope to pop out to her home in the Heights to see the iris that was her mom’s, which qualifies as “heritage” from where I sit.

However, Pat is not limited to flowers and enjoys nurturing cucumbers, strawberries, and tomatoes, although she no longer cans. She recalls, from her childhood, taking produce to a canning factory in Oregon. I asked about rabbits eating her strawberries, as they do in my neighborhood, and she praised the local fox who keeps the rabbit population in check. Her area seems urban for a fox, but, after all, this is Montana!

Her advice for new gardeners is Be Patient. Be Patient… Be patient, the kind needed for raising children, and she and her husband raised four. Joann became a Master Gardener before her mother. Pat is in her sixth year as a Master Gardener, helping at the Moss Mansion in the spring plus Metra in summers, when not working her own yard. She has participated at the zoo. With her wise perspective of time, Pat values long-range planning in public places.

Her favorite aspect of the Master Gardeners’ program is, succinctly yet potently stated, fun! We are so lucky to have her on board. I don’t know how she schedules it all, considering she’s a mall walker in winter, thanks to her Nissan Rogue that she claims walks through snow, and walks her dog twice a day when snow is not on the ground. In addition, Pat volunteers every day at the Senior Center at the Methodist church in the Heights. I needed a nap just thinking about what all Pat does! I heard through the grapevine that Pat brings baked goods to many group MG events, and not store-bought but homemade, pies, cookies, and sometimes cakes. She will forever be in our hearts for this! Wow, WonderWoman. Now we can better understand where Joann gets her drive.

By Bess Lovec

gloxiniaPat sent the photo of her gloxinia bloom. It looks like a nice specimen for the Flower Show.


Master Gardener Maia Dickerson

Maia Dickerson, Preventative Health Specialist, certainly keeps focused on healthy nutrition, whether it is for herself and gardening partner, Nick, the children at the CareAfter School Program, low income adults or the children at the Gardeners Farmers Market. Maia has even started games, one called the Power of Produce, whereby the kids can earn tokens. They can then use the tokens to buy their own choice of food at the market.

Maia spent the first part of her life with her older brother and family in Fairmount, Indiana. She fondly remembers her nearby grandparents’ farm, garden and apple tree. Her grandmother made wonderful applesauce turned pink with cinnamon red hots. She continues the tradition each fall canning her own regular and pink applesauce (if she can find the cinnamon red hots) for the winter.

Nick and Maia met in Mexico while she was volunteering and he was on winter break from school in Reno. Maia was working in Arlington, VA and was in Mexico to assist researchers in their study of mangroves and crocodiles. Through friends she made in Mexico, she was able to get a job in Reno as a wildlife educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. Maia and Nick talked their landlord into letting them use the front yard of their apartment as a garden. They grew tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and strawberries. Eventually, it just became a beautiful strawberry bed. Actually it wasn’t a bad thing because it allowed them to invite friends over for strawberry parties which included strawberry shortcake, chocolate dipped strawberries and margaritas.

When they moved to Billings seven ears ago, they bought a house, raised beds soon followed suit. They have five raised beds which contain tomatoes, peppers, herbs, tomatillos, bok choy, onions, beans and salad greens and maybe a flower or two.

Maia studied in suburban Philadelphia, Belize and Flagstaff, AZ to get her degree in environmental science. Maia originally took Master Gardener classes to learn more about plants that grow well in Montana. She was attracted to the Care After School Program volunteer activity because she enjoys teaching children about plants, animals and other things in and around their environment. From time to time she also has opportunities to teach kids about where food comes from, food miles and the importance of local healthy food.

What Maia didn’t realize along with most of the public is how much our community relies on master gardeners for different projects all over town. She would like to take the class again just to learn more. The winter Care After School program and the summer Gardeners Market at South Park are two projects she thoroughly enjoys. Her advice to other gardeners is to have fun and experiment and get involved in community projects. Thank you for your service and teaching.


Submitted by Sheri Kisch

A Level-Headed Gaze

On a blustery day, Christine Smith (completed MG Level 3) and I met over coffee. She serves as the Treasurer of Yellowstone County’s MG Assn., and that role could not be in better hands, since accounting is what she does professionally as a financial consultant for a national bank. What struck me as the strongest about her is a no-nonsense approach to gardening and about anything else we discussed. With a steady, straightforward gaze, perhaps borne from flat Midwestern plains, Chris faces reality
head-on, in blunt language. She consciously attempts to be objective in both
her work and gardening.

“Don’t be afraid to dig things up and move them around.” Her theories include the notions that gardening is a path, a process, in which we never reach our goals. Having raised two boys, she neglected houseplants but “employed” her sons to garden when they were growing up, and they still garden on their own as adults. The practices keep filtering down from her grandmother, a pickler, who “picked all the baby ones.” She finds pleasure in eating the products of her efforts, Chris’s greatest joy in gardening. However her appreciation doesn’t stop there. She loves teaching children basics about gardening at Riverstone’s Healthy by Design Thursday afternoon markets in South Park during summer months. Chris helped develop the activities for that program, which is constantly being refined.

Chris waited until her boys were self-sufficient before taking MG classes in 2011, but her training started long before that. Her knowledge was fleshed out by more than grandmothers and her father. She took horticulture in high school, and the description of the content struck me as sophisticated for any age group. Her teacher introduced the concept of public and private spaces, illustrated by having front yards as aesthetically pleasing while backyards are the zone for clichéd statues and personalized memorabilia. And Chris grafted in high school. An advanced program seems reasonable in an agriculturally based economy such as where she grew up in Minnesota. Her quest to take MG classes was to learn the truth, plus she values the social aspects.

She is moving towards hardy perennial xeriscaping. Her skill set defies our region; Chris grows grapes and modified her grape jam from a chokecherry recipe. Even though her marigolds were eaten last year, and she recalls 2016 as a bust due to grubs, she is far from burnt out. Her tomatoes were fine, so hope keeps springing eternal. “I like experimenting. Learn something every day. There are no guarantees.” Working the Farmers Market booth gets tough when answers to questions are elusive, but she “only takes what I can do”, but that is a lot!

Not only does Chris serve as the Association Treasurer and Healthy by Design Coordinator, she also organizes with Gail Tesinsky the courtyard planter by the Courthouse, in memory of veterans of Yellowstone County. Both of her sons serve in the U.S. Air Force, a fact that Chris quietly shares. Anemones are reseeding themselves there. Yellowstone County would look and feel quite different were it not for the modest wisdom and countless contributions of Chris Smith.


Submitted by Bess Lovec

What’s Weeding – Interview with Rick Shotwell

By Bess Lovec

I really like Rick’s approach to gardening, unlike mine.  I constantly feel like I should be weeding, have weeded, or plan to weed.  His yard does not synchronize with his quote about weeding, though!

Rick can’t remember when he hasn’t gardened because, as he says, there is something about Shotwells and tomatoes.  His uncles routinely competed with each other for raising the best ones.  His grandfather went so far as to sneak out of the nursing home and plant tomatoes among the shrubs.  Rick has no idea where his grandfather got the tomato plants or seeds.  This tradition apparently will continue, since his granddaughter latched onto his cherry tomatoes and told her mother that she wants to grow her own food.  Rick saves seeds from tomato plants and rotates the plants’ locations to maintain the family competition.

He finds satisfaction in growing his own food, and currently produces corn, cucumbers, and hot peppers for a mutual friend of ours, plus other vegetables.  Rick experimented with corn this past summer but considers the results poor due to lack of enough sunlight.  He plans to change the direction of his cucumber trellis from north/south to an easterly/westerly direction.  So this Master Gardener, who took the classes twice, continues to learn and grow.  The MG Program consistently promotes modesty:  When I first phoned Rick, he claimed to know nothing, an understatement if there ever was one!  The MG program introduced him to different ideas, and he means that in a positive slant.  Taking the classes twice helped to solidify the information for him.  I plan to do so as well.  My first round of classes felt like my face was in an open fire hydrant.  I only recall random snippets.

His greatest challenge is finding enough area in his urban setting.  He has reworked it, putting in sprinklers and re-sodding his front yard three years ago.  And earwigs taking root in his corn this summer provided another challenge.  From a design standpoint, Rick claims that anything looks good in a pot, and that is where flowers go at his place.  He prefers keeping lilacs trimmed.

During his four years in the U.S. Navy, Rick was a brown water sailor, which means he worked in the coastal waters, including two tours of Viet Nam, although he prefers discussing gardening.  In reflecting about his eight years as a Master Gardener, he found particular pleasure while helping with the Special K Ranch.  Lately Rick volunteers at the Metra.  His advice to gardeners is to enjoy the process and be patient.  Did gardening teach Rick patience, or is he truly a patient person among few?  My inkling is the latter.

Cindy Roessler – Perpetual Gardener

by Bess Lovec

This common thread runs through just about every gardener I meet- their first introduction to gardening was through family. Cindy is no exception, and, as is also often the case, it was her mother. She helped her mom and grandmother grow vegetables while growing up in Dickinson, ND, although her mom later grew to adore flowers.

Cindy represents another great source of information for our gardening community. She usually starts her plants from seed, and watching them pop up in spring gives her lots of joy. Another positive she discovers through gardening is sharing ideas with people, especially the network via the MG program. The water lilies in her pond were inspired by Elaine Allard, for example. She winters them and many other plants in her garage. Her range of gardening activities – wow! Cindy uses raised beds and has grown to specialize in flowering perennials, especially hardy hibiscus and delphinium. She has limited her gardening activities, though, by taking out fruit trees, and the lawn remains her husband’s turf.

One of her favorite learning aspects of the MG program was discovering the “awesome” Special K Ranch. They have a large operation, and even sell tomatoes to Albertsons, one of those little known facts about how our community is affected by local gardening.

Cindy has been with Valley Credit Union for 37 years, serving as the Chief Risk Officer.  Gardening functions as her stress buster, supplying a radical contrast to her work, although her full-time position prevents her from being frequently involved with MG. Nonetheless, she belongs to a Bonsai Society which meets monthly at a garden center in the Heights.

As a true gardener, she tries something new every year, this year being non-GMO foxglove. She doesn’t give up easily, either. Her heroic attempt to hatch praying mantises initially failed, but she is going to give that another whirl. The challenges of gardening here, from her perspective, the shorter season and lack of enough sunlight, only fuel her fury to succeed. Also she works to find the right amount of iron to compensate for deficiency in maple trees. Her advice to those new to gardening? Patience and avoid over-watering.

As she continues to mature as a gardener, Cindy is noticing more frequently the connections among animals and her yard. Her crab apple trees feed cedar wax wing birds, while the deer prefer water from the pond and the bird seed intended for birds.  Hummingbirds frequent her yard for a few weeks every summer, entertaining Cindy. I hope you have a chance to meet her during our growing season!