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

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GROWING HOLLYHOCKS

Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) – Zones 3 to 9. These old- fashioned favorites unfurl richly colored single or double flowers on lanky stems that can reach 9 feet in height. They can tower above a garden, adding a lovely vertical element to your yard.

Hollyhock is a biennial, which means it grows foliage on short stems its first year but doesn’t flower until the following year. Growing hollyhocks in the garden is the goal of many gardeners who remember these impressive flowers from their youth. It is a favorite ‘cottage garden’ choice in my yard. 

Did you know, based on folklore, that hollyhocks werehollyhock 1 planted near outhouses so ladies wouldn’t have to broach the unmentionable subject of outhouses in a Victorian household? They could simply look for the hollyhocks themselves.

Hollyhocks need full sun and moist, rich, well-drained soil. The mistake many novice hollyhock growers make is to plant this flower in soil that is too dry. If you are planting seeds, sow the seeds outside about a week before last frost. If you are planting seedlings, wait about two to three weeks after last frost. Hollyhock seeds only need to be planted right below the soil, no more than 1/4- inch deep. Hollyhock plants should be about 2 feet apart to grow well. You can also plant bare root hollyhocks. 

Hollyhocks are a short lived perennial. This means that most varieties will only live two to three years. Their lifespan can be extended some by removing growing hollyhock flowers as soon as they fade. By living in a non-tropical region, cutting them
back to the ground and mulching them will also help.

The one benefit that comes from growing hollyhock flowers is that they easily reseed themselves. While they may be short-lived, in their proper growing conditions they will continually grow more, which will keep the hollyhock flowers consistent in years to come.

Few diseases affect hollyhocks; however, hollyhock rust is a problem. Rust is a common and serious disease that is found in hollyhock gardens and is spread by mallow, which is a weed that acts as a disease reservoir. The rust disease is a fungus that spreads by rain droplets splashing on leaves and through air transfer. If not treated, the disease intensifies through summer and will eventually kill the plant. Rust will overwinter and infect the crowns of sprouting plants in spring.

The rust disease in hollyhocks appears as rust-colored bumps on the underside of the leaves and stems of the plant. The disease starts as small rust flecks and grows into raised bumps or pustules that will spread to all parts of the plant greens. An infected plant will appear limp and ragged. Does hollyhock rust spread to other plants? Yes, it does! It only spreads to other members of the Alcea family, so most of your other garden plants are safe.

There are a few pests that affect hollyhocks: hollyhock pest 1The Hollyhock weevil (Apion longirostre) is one of them. The hollyhock weevil is commonly responsible for damaged foliage and thinned-out stands of hollyhock. Another is the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) hollyhock pest 2which feed on hollyhock leaves as adults, causing the foliage to turn brown from the top of the plant down. The Hollyhock Sawfly larvae (Neoptilia malvacearum) feed extensively on leaves, eventually skeletonizing hollyhock foliage. Spider mites such as the Two-Spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae) feed on hollyhocks. Spider mite feeding damage appears as stippling or flecking on leaves, leaf yellowing and premature leaf drop. Mites are small, barely visible to the naked eye, and they prefer hot, dry conditions; the presence of fine webbing indicates a severe infestation.

Some additional possible pests: multiple species of thrips including gladiolius thrips can affect hollyhocks. These small, flying insects pierce flowers, buds, leaves and stems, causing the appearance of silvery, necrotic lines and sometimes dieback. Avoid the use of broad-spectrum insecticides that could harm natural thrips predators. Leafhoppers and aphids may also occasionally act as hollyhock pests. Aphids are soft-bodied insects that tend to feed on vulnerable new growth. There are plenty of resources available to learn more about the various pests that can affect hollyhocks. I would encourage you to further your research if you find you are having issues with your hollyhocks!

If anyone would like some seeds I have some single-flower black, white, red and Crème de Cassis seeds I’d love to share with fellow gardeners. I am looking for single-flower variety in a bright yellow, if anyone has them growing in their yards! I can leave some at Amy’s office if there is an interest.

Resources and further reading: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/hollyhock/tips-on-hollyhocksgrowing-hollyhocks-successfully.htm
http://thevermontgardener.blogspot.com/?spref=fb
https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/hollyhock/tips-on-hollyhocks-growing-hollyhocks-successfully.htm
http://birdsandblooms.com/gardening/top-10-lists-for-gardeners/top-10-old-fashioned-flowers/?8
http://www.gardenguides.com/68352-hollyhock-diseases.html
https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/hollyhock/controlling-hollyhockweevils.htm
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p://homeguides.sfgate.com/hollyhock-pests-22391.html

Submitted by Tracy Livingston

May Master Gardeners at the Greenhouse

On May 24, Master Gardeners on the Town was hosted by Amy at the Metra Greenhouse Ed Center. Mary Davis and Amy planned on having a crackling fire to welcome all with, but winds and rain made that option impossible. Lucky for us the greenhouse became the perfect location for serving up some refreshing root beer floats to about 14 takers.

Things are coming along out there, especially the disappearance of the weeds, thanks to Greg T, Sherry D, Mary D, Gloria E, Marilyn L, Joann and Corry G.

Inside the greenhouse the Tumbleweed Teens have planted up 5 4×4 square foot beds, which are coming along nicely. Still looking for volunteers to adopt a garden patch or two out there, so if you are interested, just let Amy know.

May at the Greenhouse 2

Article and pictures by Amy Grandpre

Arbor Day 2017 at Veterans Park

On May 4th the city of Billings held their annual Arbor Day Celebration at Veterans Park. The day involved planting new trees, pruning and caring for established trees, a general clean-up of the area, and a day of educational activities for approximately 400 fourth graders from schools around town. Eleven Master Gardeners (Sharon Yazak, Sheri Kisch, Mary Davis, Sue Weinreis, Fay Danielson, Merrita Murdock, Sharon Wetch, Rosemary Power, Vonnie Bell, Tracy Livingston, and Elaine Allard) organized an educational booth and spent their day teaching 4th graders about the importance of pollinators and helping the students make their own seed bo On May 24, Master Gardeners on the Town was hosted by Amy at the Metra Greenhouse Ed Center. Mary Davis and Amy planned on having a crackling fire to welcome all with, but winds and rain made that option impossible. Lucky for us the greenhouse became the perfect location for serving up some refreshing root beer floats to about 14 takers. Things are coming along out there, especially the disappearance of the weeds, thanks to Greg T, Sherry D, Mary D,

Gloria E, Marilyn L, Joann and Corry G. Inside the greenhouse the Tumbleweed Teens have planted up 5 4×4 square foot beds, which are coming along nicely. Still looking for volunteers to adopt a garden patch or two out there, so if you are interested, just let Amy know. The students were given instructions on how to disperse the seed bombs to help create better habitat for pollinators. All in all, it was a rewarding and wonderful day for all participants.

Article Submitted by Elaine Allard ~ Pictures by Tracy Livingston

 

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

Montana’s Biggest Trees Registry

The Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation keeps records on the largest trees in the state. These trees have been cataloged as the largest representatives of their particular species discovered so far. From looking at past registries, it appears that most of these record trees are located in the northwestern part of the state.

However, many species of Montana trees have not yet been nominated and there is a special category for urban trees. There is no funding to support this program; its success is mostly dependent on the volunteer efforts.

Forms and technical directions on how to measure a tree for nomination can be found on-line http://dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/forestry/forestry-assistance/montana-big-trees-program

Biggest trees 3 2017

http://billingsgazette.com/ eedition/page-a/ page_64df6c88-bfb5-519c -a021-742ebfb67aeb.html

 

 

Maybe like me, this will perk your interest in becoming a “Big Tree Hunter”. Is there a “specimen big tree” in your yard or neighborhood? Or, will one of us find a tree to nominate in one of our outdoor adventures across the state?

(By the way, if you really get into this, there is also a national big tree registry. http:// http://www.americanforests.org/bigtree )

An excellent reference book on trees: Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.

Submitted by Elaine Allard