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In Montana May showers bring June flowers

Melting Garden Snow
Spring is coming!
April 14th, 2008

Slowly the frozen earth thaws as each day grows longer. The warming sun gradually melts six foot drifts that blanketed the tiered gardens since December. By the middle of April the ground warmed enough to allow the hundreds of bulbs I planted last November to send shoots forth and poke through the cold, thawing ground. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses all made their debut as soon as the snow retreated.

Spring does not come easily to the high mountains of Montana. The air is thin and dry; it does not hold heat well. The temperature frequently drops 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit when a cloud temporarily blocks the sun. A cloudy day usually brings with it temperatures that are 20 degrees cooler than a bright and sunny day. Precipitation in April and May is more often snow than rain. Only the hardiest plants can survive the cool weather and wide temperature fluctuations. My mountain gardens are experimental and I was anxious to see what perennials lived through the winter and would flourish as the days grew warmer. It was heartening to see tulip, daffodil and crocus shoots as the snow retreated.

Tulip Shoots
Tulip shoots poke through the warming earth
Snow Covered Tiered Gardens
Snow buried tiered gardens gradually yield to a warming sun
Slash Piles
Piles of tree limbs remain from winter woodcutting
April 23rd, 2008

Many neighbors gathered wood from the northern part of my yard last autumn. They graciously felled dead trees and neatly left piles of slash, tree limbs and branches, in their wake. In May I will consolidate the piles and burn them. Burning will reduce the danger of forest fire and the resulting ash will return nutrients to the soil. Eventually I would like to clear most of the dead trees from the north yard and grade part of the land. Along the driveway I would like to plant a rhythmic row of cedar trees that would look like a colonnade. Below them an English garden with walkways, a few tall evergreen trees, many shrubs, a bed or two of flowers, a bird bath, a few statues and comfortable benches may grace the landscape.

Rich suggested that I plant a few apple and cherry trees too. The birds would certainly enjoy cherries while bears, which are a frequent visitor already, could feast on the wind downed apples that I will toss over the future fence. I would enjoy having fresh apples for snacks and to make applesauce. An afternoon spent canning could provide enough applesauce for a year. I have fond memories of canning applesauce with my mom back in Connecticut. As a special treat we added a hot cinnamon candy to each jar.

The first Crocus bloomed on April 23rd
Tulip Growth
Tulips grew four inches in just a week
Dramatic Storm
In the mountains May showers bring June flowers...
May 5th, 2008

Rain showers are often dramatic and localized in the mountains. Just a mile from my home a small cloud forms into a towering wisp and sheds a load of water on the nearby hills. In a few minutes the rain will stop and a new cloud will form somewhere else. In the spring I often see bands of showers and tall wispy clouds run up and down Paradise valley. The sun is rarely far behind and often leaves beautiful rainbows in the wake of the isolated storms.

Most of the roads in the mountains are gravel like my driveway. Each spring, while the ground is still damp and pliable, graders clean out drainage ditches and smooth the road's surface. Norm stopped by today to trim my driveway and smooth over winter's ruts. His assistant ran a vibrating roller over the freshly graded gravel to smooth and compact it. As the weather warms the driveway will dry and harden like concrete.

Driveway Grading
Norm skillfully grades the driveway by the conservatory
Rolling a driveway
Rolling compacts and smoothes the gravel surface
Greenhouse Plants
Cedar trees flourish in the conservatory
May 9th, 2009

In the middle of April I started to cultivate trays of seedlings in the greenhouse or future conservatory. Sometimes the seeds were so tiny I had to take off my glasses to see them and used a tweezers to lift them. Over the course of several weeks I planted over 2,000 seeds which I hoped would provide about 700 perennial flowers for the tiered gardens. Seedlings were far more economical than purchasing plants and more satisfying. I carefully nurtured them, kept them warm and moist and monitored their progress daily. In ten days my seeds sent up tiny green shoots. In three weeks secondary leaves were forming and I thinned the extra plants. In five weeks most of my plants were an inch or two tall and growing vigorously.

The greenhouse provided a warm, humid and pleasant place for my plants to grow and for me to work with them. Outside the weather was damp and cool. A sure harbinger of spring, bluebirds, arrived in late April and started to search for nesting sites. I cleaned out the five bird houses I installed last spring and put up another five. Within a week all were claimed and I was often soothed by the sounds of chirping bluebirds happily building nests.

Flower seedlings get a head start on spring
Yellow Rose
Yellow roses gently scent the humid greenhouse air
A crescent moon competes with Venus in the morning sky
May 9th, 2009

Ichose mostly perennials for the tiered gardens and started them all from seed. Shasta Daisy, Poppies, Hollyhock, Yarrow, Alyssum, Chinese Lantern, Bellflower, Rudbecka Goldsturm, Canterbury Bells, Rudbeckia Hirta, Maiden Pink, Iberis, Coreopsis, Sweet William, Delphinium and Columbine were my choice for perennials. I also planted in seeding trays an assortment of Sunflowers including a 12 foot variety and a few bush type Morning Glories. Over the course of two weeks I carefully picked up with a tweezers over 2,000 mostly tiny seeds and planted them in about 900 one inch pots. If I am successful they will fill the 97 tiered gardens with lovely flowers.

Over the summer I hope we can finish the retaining wall below the greenhouse or conservatory. There we can build another 30 or so tiered gardens where I would like to raise vegetables and berries. We may design the gardens so they can be screened in to keep out birds and small animals. Deer, which are beautiful but quite destructive will be kept out of the yard by a six foot tensioned wire fence and driveway gate.

Planted Seeds
Seeds are kept moist and covered until they sprout
Seedlings sprout
After seedlings sprout the plastic cover is propped open
Pink Hyacinth Bloom
A fragrant and lovely pink hyacinth
May 19th, 2009

The renewal of life in the gardens after a cold and harsh winter brings joy and satisfaction to my soul. Last November I brushed the snow from the earth, cut holes in the muddy and partially frozen soil and dropped in many bulbs. I waited patiently while the days grew shorter and the snows ever deeper. Christmas came and went. In February I noticed the lengthening days as the snow pack rose to the three foot mark. I occupied myself by reading books about gardening and dreamed of tulips, daffodils and fragrant hyacinths. More snow buried my gardens in March while I started to pot seeds in the conservatory. April brought winds from the south and a brighter, stronger sun. Gradually the thick blanket of snow melted, the earth warmed and life burst from the soil with vibrant colors and sweet fragrances. I am happy.

Tulip Blooms
Happy tulips open their bright blooms to the warm sun
Multiple Red Tulip Blossoms
Multiple blossoms adorn this bright red tulip

The pleasures of work out of doors

Work beckons
The melting snow reveals unfinished tasks
May 27th, 2009

I love working outdoors during the spring in Montana. The mountain air is crisp, clean and dry. The sun feels warm on my pale skin after a long and cold winter. All around me life is returning and renewing itself. The melting snow reveals many projects left undone from last year. The old flagpole from the Emigrant Post Office must be painted, repaired and installed. Sixty some new gardens are waiting to be tilled and planted. The flagpole triangle garden needs building. Weeds must be pulled or sprayed. The northern section of the yard should be cleared of all the burned trees and prepared for walkways and gardens. The front yard gazebos have yet to be built. A terrace below the conservatory awaits a Greek picnic pavilion and tiered gardens. The marble railings must be painted and sealed. The front step railings also are in need of paint and they must be trimmed with green treat where they abut the tiered gardens. So much to do and so little time before our summer is over.

Round bale of straw
A six foot tall bale of straw for the gardens
Painting the flagpole
An old and discarded flagpole is reborn
Tulips Frame Emigrant Peak
Beds of tulips frame Emigrant Peak

In early June Rich stopped by to help me with my seemingly endless list of tasks. He brought his mini-excavator and started to clear the northern yard. He felled massive, centuries old trees killed by the Big Creek forest fire in July of 2006. I picked up branches, built huge piles of wood and set them on fire. In between I spent many a day tilling gardens and planting roots and bulbs. On inclement days I painted the flagpole inside the garage. Unlike the slow moving days of winter, my time out doors in spring flew by. My skin grew tanner, I lost 10 pounds that I gained during the winter and I felt wonderful. Every evening after dinner I would walk around my yard, savor the beauty of the gardens, review the days work and plan tasks for the next day.

Last fall, just before the snow fell, I scattered seed for the new lawns. Much to my surprise tiny shoots of green sprouted from the barren and muddy earth that for so long surrounded my home in the woods. Many a weed burst forth too but those I carefully pulled up by their roots after spring rains. Weeds also infested the gardens and the gravel walkways. The former I toiled for many hours pulling weeds by hand. The walkways were easier for I simply sprayed them with a pesticide.

Snow covered tulips
An early June snow weighs on the tulips
Cascading Gutter
A cascading gutter leads water away from the house and
over the tiered gardens
Clearing and burning dead trees
Newly sprouted lawn
The fresh beginnings of my newborn lawn

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