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 Briarwood. 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.
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!