Garden Synergy


Beautiful landscapes and stunning gardens fill the pages of the plethora of gardening magazines available these days serving the purpose of exposing the broad range of what sorts of outdoor spaces are possible. The good news is that virtually all of these gardens can be mimicked right here in western Montana.

What’s required more than anything is a little research into suitable substitute plants that will have the same effect as those in the pictures. And, contrary to what you may have heard, we northern gardeners have lots of choices.

There are many, many well adapted plants in nearly all plant categories-all the way from (horizontal) groundcovers to plants whose growth habits are strictly vertical. And, the list is growing. Each year, hundreds of new cultivars (varieties) are introduced in nearly every classification including deciduous trees and shrubs, conifers, fruits, perennials, annuals and vines.

As an example, dozens of new roses boasting different colors, flower forms and/or fragrances come into the market annually. Most of the new introductions are either selected from the wild for a particular characteristic or are developed by plant breeders who “cross” different related plants to produce new, possibly more desirable offspring.

The net effect is that rather than being limited here in zone 4, it’s a challenge to keep track of all the introductions and determining if they really do offer something superior.

Regardless of what’s new, there are plenty of existing, proven choices for the aspiring landscaper including lots of highly ornamental native plants.  Often, leaf or flower color generate the most interest but finding plants with slower growth rates (dwarf) and/or unique growth habits can add exciting elements to the garden. These are your “characters” and very often become favorites within the garden.

Knowing the growth rate (and, therefore effective mature size) and growth habit (spreading, upright, etc.) helps narrow down the options and, in so doing, leads one to the right plant for the right place.

Beyond plants, Montana gardeners do not have to look far to find wonderful natural materials such as boulders and flagstone. These items combine nicely with plants, changes in grade (berms, terraces) and manmade features (benches, sculpture, arbors, etc.) to produce, sometimes spectacular, aesthetic and practical benefits. Let’s call it “garden synergy”.

You can become a synergistic agent. Cast aside any fears and venture boldly into the vast canvas which is your yard. Gather ideas from the abundant sources of information and know that you can create something equal to if not superior to the fabulous, inviting gardens featured in the magazines.

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Bill Caras is a lifelong Missoulian whose family has been here over a century.  The family business, Caras Nursery and Landscape, has operated from the same location on S. 3rd W. since 1896. Bill is a plant nut and draws from many years observation of all things related to gardening in western Montana. Still, he says, he learns something new every day.