When Richard and I were looking for houses in Billings, I was drawn to this property, because of the large garden area in our backyard. We have a substantial backyard, and the garden must be 40′ x 40′. All my life, I’ve dreamed of having a substantial vegetable garden. Little did I know what an undertaking it would become.
The first summer, we tried to plant tomatoes, peppers, peas, and green beans. I used the Hoosier frost free date, May 15, as the weekend it would be safe. Within two weeks, all my little plantings succumbed to frost – frost-free in Billings is the end of May. Forever optimistic, I tried to put in more vegetables and some flowers, but could barely keep up with the maintenance. It was not a successful garden, and I was learning to exercise my green thumb where the climate is very different from my native Indiana. Billings is very dry, semi-arid, and the soil where our home was built leaves little to be desired. Springtime brings the heaviest rain of the year, along with very high winds – the young plants took a beating.
As the years went along and we were working 70 hours a week, my poor garden went neglected. Every time I looked out my kitchen window, the garden eyesore was clearly in my view. And then the weeds took over. Two or three times a season, I was reduced to spraying Weed Be Gone from a hose sprayer, killing every thing in sight. Our house had a small putting green on the grass side of the garden. We had the fake grass moved to the garden to help manage the weeds. The putting green took up about 1/3 of the garden space. Whew! That was a relief.
Three years ago, Richard built three raised beds for me. We had a truckload of dirt delivered, but it wasn’t very fertile. The garden was a bit more successful, however. My tomatoes, Hungarian peppers, and jalapenos did well, and the zucchini, crookneck and spaghetti squash went nuts! My sister and her daughter visited me that summer. Carol brought me a recipe for a zucchini pie that tasted like apple pie. It was quite good. Baked goods of every shape and size that year, but Richard is not a fan of squash. I gave away a lot of what we grew, and there was still more to spare. I had enough hot peppers to can – it’s one of my mother’s recipes and they were delicious.
So, the next summer, I planted marigolds to keep down on insects, only to learn we’d planted rabbit food – they loved the marigolds. I planted perennials, daisies and coneflowers, meant to survive dry summers and poor soil, along the east side of the fence only to be trampled to an untimely death by our dog, Auggie. Oh, the rabbits liked coneflowers, too, and still do.
Egads . . .
Last summer, I’d had enough. I was determined to grow an herb garden, at the very least. To my amazement, the chives, sage, and thyme just thrived. The dill reseeded itself this year, and I added parsley, rosemary and moss roses to the herb bed. I also planted snow-on-the-mountain along the inside concrete wall, confident nothing would kill or eat that, and it’s doing great, too. This year I added some pineapple sage.
Here’s another coneflower next to sage – the sage is full and bushy – doesn’t it look great?
No picture, but I did put grass clippings around all the plants in the three beds.
I think the coneflower is “Sundown.” It’s supposed to grow 36″ tall with 5-6″ pink/orange flowers that change color as they mature. Full sun and drought tolerant.
Still some rabbit damage. I’m hoping the grass will help keep the roots alive so they’ll come up next year.
Now that I’m not working, I’ve decided to take on the garden with gusto. We moved some stepping stones from another part of the yard to make a pathway around the raised beds. We spread mulch along the pathway. Monday, I planted another grouping of perennials on the north side of the chain link – daylillies, coneflowers, and speedwell. I got the daylilly for $5.00, and was able to split it into three plants. I’ve got some zinnas and salvia to fill in some of the gaps. This morning I was thrilled to find that the rabbits left the entire patch untouched. Hooray!!
I have two tomato plants, both Burpee varieties, that have lots of beautiful baby green tomatoes. And more Hungarian peppers, jalapenos, and some orange bell peppers. With fingers crossed, I planted bush blue lake green beans – they’re coming up and leafing out. Hooray!!!
OK – what’s next? This weekend, Richard and I are going to put some more 4×4’s to make a border at the front edge of the raised beds. We’re going to get that horrible fake putting green out and build a firepit. Then I’m looking at the Montana State University Extension website for more perennial ideas to plant along the east fence line. More pictures to follow . . .