A fall trip to Montana found me searching for high country gardens to visit. Montana is a state of 145,552 square miles and my garden guides identify 4 gardens for the entire state and none were within 500 miles of my destination! Disappointed I decided this trip would not include wandering through gardens. Garden Guides are useful but certainly not all encompassing because many hidden gardens await if you keep looking as you travel.
Driving from Big Sky into Bozeman one early morning I spied a sign, “Lillie’s Garden” on the side of the busy highway. Not a garden publicized by my guide books but a small hidden garden known to locals and lucky visitors. A garden to visit brightened my day!
Laurie Blue named these 2 acres for her Grandmother Lillie. Laurie maintained a personal garden for 12 years, and has been farming flowers fulltime for the past three years. “Lillie’s Garden” is a business of fresh cut flowers, wreathes both fresh and dried, and arrangements for all occasions with a specialty in summer wedding flowers. The barns on the property showcase floral artists work in watercolor, oils, photography and sculpture.
A walk through the garden of summer flowers is a circus of color. The performers are the bright black and yellow wild canaries feasting on sunflower seeds formed from spent blooms. A view in any direction brings delight as flowers in all forms surround visitors. In the open barn the early summer flowers are cut, bundled and hanging from the racks to dry in clusters to be used in wreaths and arrangements. Bits of garden art are scattered about with bird houses, angels, moose, and watering cans in selected spots.
A fantasy come true for a traveling gardener wandering through fields of flowers with sparkling drops of rain clinging to the leaves and snow capped mountains in the distance.
Fantasy it is as farming flowers is not magic but constant vigilant effort. Seeds are sprouted indoors in March when snow swirls and piles outside the green house. The work of planting 2 acres of flowers by seedlings consumes the months of April and May when winter can easily roll back through without warning. Rows of seedlings, and hours of manual watering to supplement the natural moisture requires a true passion for growing the crop of flowers. Spindles of spring green lacking flowers and strong roots are a precarious crop.
As we visit Laurie tells a story of gardening reality when she describes how a ten-minute late July hailstorm, strong enough to strip the paint from her garden gate, destroyed her bountiful crop. This natural event left her without the flowers for the big August wedding season so popular in Montana’s summer season. Nature is not always kind.
Still Laurie muses, “Creativity requires you to adapt.” Her reputation for beautiful wreaths available throughout the year redirects her attention to working with found and gathered objects from the forests surrounding her. Dried flowers, and new ideas are wound into irresistible objects that keep her primarily local customers coming.
Of course for me, visiting in September, her garden looked beautiful, as more blooms had grown since the powerful shower of hail. While she could still see imperfections as a visitor I found delight.
March is the season of hidden gardens for us here in Maricopa County. Now is the season of garden tours. Our own “Real Gardens for Real People” tour is March 21. But there are many garden tours available this time of year. Local garden clubs, homeowners associations and charities all organize garden tours perhaps in your own neighborhood or nearby. There is likely to be a small sign, a ribbon waving, or a balloon sailing to mark the home gardens open to explore. While the owners may still be fretting over imperfections, a visitor will see the color, plants and serendipity achieved by a love of growing and gardening. Make space in your schedule, wander through, wonder what ideas you might find for your own garden and notice again why you love gardening.