Zone 4 Magazine

Zone 4 Magazine came to Boise in March. We had a grand time w/the owners/editors, Andra and Dan Spurr. We even wrapped up our weekend at the Garden Show with a celebratory cocktail and a nice dinner. Yes, we did.

A few days later, I was interviewed by Jodi Torpey, writer and Western Gardener (extraordinaire). Jodi’s piece was in the latest Zone 4 eNews.

Can you believe they call me a “character?”

Characters of the New West

The sustainable gardens of today are rooted in the past, says Mary Ann Newcomer of Boise, Idaho. Many homesteaders in the 1870s planted gardens using native local plants, organic gardening methods, and nary a drop of pressurized irrigation water.

The accomplished horticulturist, garden designer, and popular speaker is helping gardeners understand why heirloom gardens still work today. Heirloom varieties of hollyhock, iris, and daylily, are almost bullet-proof, she says, adding, “Some heirloom plants are incredibly drought-tolerant, seldom bothered by pests, and incredibly fragrant.”

Mary Ann started following the footsteps of pioneer gardeners when she decided to give a talk on the gardens mentioned in novels written by Willa Cather, like My Antonia and O’Pioneers.

“When I revisited the books and started taking notes, I was tickled to realize the plants just happened to be all my favorites and they were very sentimental plants from my childhood,” she explains.

If you’d like to try planting your own heirloom garden—flowers or vegetables—here are Mary Ann’s top three tips:

1. Plant in clumps. Use odd numbers of plants (3, 5, 7) because the human eye finds this appealing and native pollinators like to forage in colonies of plants. Big splashes of color are handsome in the garden. A stand of Iris germanica is a wonderful thing to behold.
2. Do NOT overwater. Many heirloom plants, by their very nature, are drought tolerant.
3. Add heirloom annuals for color and drama like fragrant sweet peas, morning glories, marigolds, cosmos, and love lies bleeding.
To see a beautiful example of a garden with a lot of heirloom plants, Mary Ann recommends visiting the Tinsley House on the grounds of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. Another good resource is Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640-1940, by Denise Wiles Adams.

You can keep up with Mary Ann’s adventures on her award-winning blog, Gardens of the Wild Wild West and in future issues of Zone 4 Magazine.

LOVE these folks. I think we better all raise our rhubarbtinis to Zone 4 and Jodi!

Readers, stay tuned. In the next few weeks, I will post some of the photos and text from the Pioneer Gardens presentation. Thanks for stopping by.