How Does Your Garden Grow?

by Dominic Farrenkopf for Montana 55

“All the names I know from nurse:
Gardener’s garters, Shepherd’s purse,
Bachelor’s buttons, Lady’s smock,
And the Lady Hollyhock.”

This opening stanza of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, “The Flowers,” speaks to the heart of flower gardeners as they lovingly care for their plants. They know them all by name – have for years.

Margie Cook, of Cooks’ Gardens, The Greenhouse, in Hamilton, said many seniors enjoy and excel at flower gardening. For more than 20 years now, Cook has co-owned the greenhouse business with her sister, Charlene Riggle.

“I’ve been growing flowers from seeds on up and making recommendations for local gardeners with their containers and beds,” Cook said.

According to Cook, you don’t need much space.

Pat Bleeker, a caregiver to living and growing things, tends a raised flower bed at her Hamilton home.

Pat Bleeker, a caregiver to living and growing things, tends a raised flower bed at her Hamilton home.

“One pot on a patio works, or a hook for a hanging basket to enjoy all summer. From small spaces to large landscapes, there’s no limit. A single geranium can be all it takes to fill a blank space. For a bigger statement, and if there’s room, consider planting a few perennials along with some hard-blooming annuals. This will supply non-stop color all summer long,” Cook said.

Pat Bleecker works at growing a piece of paradise in her backyard. Bleecker describes herself as “gliding through her eighth decade” and a caregiver to living and growing things.

“Rarely can I bear to toss out any kind of plant life if there is the slightest chance it might recover and thrive,” Bleecker said.

Bleecker spent much of her childhood under the care of her grandmother who taught her to love and
respect all living things.

“I still remember toddler days in my grandmother’s garden. Many times I would wake early and head for
the backyard, simply bursting with eagerness to see what had popped through that black earth in the
night. I was never scolded, but gently encouraged to get dressed properly before going out. That same
eagerness is with me to this day and I cherish this special gift which was given to me as a child,” Bleecker said.

Bleecker’s eagerness persists to this day, and she has honed her flower-gardening skills through trial
and error and informal instructions from outstanding gardeners she’s met along the way.

“When I am among beautiful blooming flowers, wherever they may be, they bring me a special kind of
joy that is quiet, deep, peaceful and calming all at the same time,” Bleecker said. “The benefits of growing flowers are countless. Growing flowers can be therapeutic. Harmony with nature provides respite
from our all too hectic world. Nurturing plants into blooming beauties gives us a sense of accomplishment, a reason to spend time outdoors and unplug from technology and, during the winter months, it’s great to be an armchair gardener, planning next season’s collage.”

Akin to growing flowers, vegetable gardening also provides Montana seniors a fulfilling experience.

Samantha O’Byrne, director of The O’Hara Commons & Sustainability Center in Hamilton, has been gardening since she was 21. She has been in the gardening industry for 17 years.

Tony Lubke of Hamilton uses his garden greenhouse to grow vegetables.

Tony Lubke of Hamilton uses his garden greenhouse to grow vegetables.

“I have worked in the greenhouse and garden seed industry, owned a retail garden shop and most recently I have been working with The O’Hara Commons, a non-profit community center with the mission of empowering a resilient community through education, demonstration gardens and shared resources,” O’Byrne said.

Not much room is needed to begin growing vegetables, either.

“As little as one container on the front porch is adequate. I always recommend that new gardeners start small and grow the size of their garden with experience,” O’Byrne said. “The tools that people need to get started growing vegetables are: Soil, sunlight, water, air, seeds (or starts) and a sturdy garden trowel, and maybe a pair of gardening gloves, but mine always end up by the wayside.”

O’Byrne recommends starting with plants that you know your household uses and enjoys as a fresh harvest. “Great plants for new gardeners include bush beans, bush zucchini, cherry tomatoes and bush cucumbers.

These are plants that can be grown in containers or directly in the soil. Mostly, they are plants that you can grow from starts, available at local nurseries or farmer markets, and the early season varieties will begin to produce within 45 to 50 days,” O’Byrne said.

Tony Lubke is a vegetable gardener who grows what his household uses. Lubke, 58, lives in Hamilton
and works for the Forest Service in Fire Dispatch.

Lubke has been gardening for 32 years now.

“My mom and dad had a garden and I liked being able to eat fresh from the garden,” Lubke said.

Lubke, too, has gained much of his gardening skills through trial and error and talking with other
gardeners about successes they have had gardening in his area.

Lubke’s gardening hobby mostly benefits his family.

“I do share with neighbors and friends, and I have started selling a few plants out of my greenhouse these last two years,” Lubke said.

“Artichokes are my favorite thing to grow and weeds are my least favorite,” Lubke said. “My neighbor
wanted me to plant artichokes because I had gotten a greenhouse. My neighbor only took a few of the plants after I got them started, so I grew the extra ones. I covered them that winter and three plants survived. I got about nine artichokes. After the second year I got about 20 artichokes. We like to cook them in the steamer and dip them in mayonnaise. I’ve also made really good Alfredo chicken artichoke pizza. For me, the best part about gardening is being outside and having success making a fresh meal in my kitchen. I grow healthy food and it is very relaxing to be in my greenhouse. I can’t wait to retire so I have more time to garden. I also plan to get a bigger greenhouse.”

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