by Bess Lovec
Imagine being a happy, optimistic gardener, even though moose jump your six foot fence the night before! Marcella Manuel exudes hope. She successfully gardens regardless of circumstances. Marcella chose the challenging climate of Roberts, Montana, although growing up in Lewistown’s climate set her up for handling tough yard duties. According to her, the joy is in surviving challenges such as snow in June and July, and hail taking out her favorite flower, the lupine, last year. Thankfully it came back, so never give up.
My favorite story of hers involves a free truckload of cattle manure that she received from a neighbor. The rancher had not sprayed for five years, but the rancher on the property before him had, and Marcella reaped the results, with herbicide contamination on potatoes and tomatoes. Initially assessing the issues as wilt, a test of the plant material shed truth on the matter. With help from the Schutter Diagnostic Lab in Bozeman and Dow Chemical, getting rid of it took eight – I am not kidding, eight – years. Aminopyralid kills dicots, not monocots, for those of you who recall Level 2. Air, sunlight, and water helped dissipate it, although scooping out contaminated soil completed the cleansing. This lady has grit.
She acquires perennials with deep discounts at one of Billings’ big box stores when the plants are past their prime, then manages to coax them to long, lovely lives. Plus she grafts to help perpetuate heritage gardens and has helped Toby gather data on heritage orchards across the state.
Both realtors and gardeners must be enthusiastic and optimistic, while knowledge and adaptability lift achievers such as Marcella even higher. She admits that her appreciation for land might not match visions other realtors have. Gardening is her stress relief, and we pondered if a chemical is released from the soil which gives euphoria to gardeners, providing sanctuary unto itself.
Marcella shares her knowledge widely, having taught Adult Ed. gardening classes in Red Lodge, Master Gardener Classes in Joliet, and 4-H members. She has hosted plant exchanges, too. Never one to take all the credit, Marcella cherishes the new County Extension Agent in Carbon County, Nikki Bailey, and acknowledges other MGs in the Red Lodge area, Brittany Moreland and Maggy Hiltner.
Her newest project is trying itoh peony, a cross between a tree peony and an herbaceous peony. She saw some at the Seattle Garden Show, a show about which she raves. Her current advice for new gardeners: start small and try; don’t be afraid. She counts her mom, the MG program, DanWalt Gardens and other gardeners as her teachers. What she values most about the MG program, even though it is all great, are activities outside of class. When hearing her speak, it becomes readily obvious that she is a walking encyclopedia of information about gardening. Carbon County and the MG program are lucky to have Marcella as a resource and inspiration!