April 17, 2013

Missoula Resources

Our little town has a ton of resources when it comes to wildlife gardening, pollinator conservation and nature education.  I thought it might be helpful to gather up a list, all here in one place, handy dandy.  For those of you in the Missoula area, this is for you.  There are, of course, MANY resources out there dedicated to a larger region or more general audience, but for now I'll try to stick to the ones close to home that I know and love so well...so, I present to you...

Helpful People, Places and Organizations for the Wildlife Gardeners, Nature Lovers and Lifelong Learners of Western Montana 

Native Plants and Garden Supplies
Native Ideals Seeds
Tear up that turfgrass!  The flora of western Montana is incredibly diverse and perfectly suited to grow in our temperamental climate.  Plants native to this region are lower maintenance, will save you on your water and fertilizer bills, and provide food, shelter and nesting sites for backyard wildlife and pollinators.  Most are easy to grow, and will add colorful cheer to your landscape all year long.  Marchie's on South 3rd carries a selection of native plants, as does Caras Nursery.  If you're looking for a place that specializes in natives try:
Blackfoot Native Plants-Kathy Settevendemie's nursery is up in the Potomac, and well worth the trip.  Good blog too.
Native Ideals Seed Farm-Bryce and Rebecca's beautiful farm in the Jocko Valley.  You can find their seeds in retail stores and markets all over Missoula; you'll know them by Courtney Blazon's awesome artwork.
Getting out of town a bit, Southwest Montana Native Landscapes is Catherine Cain's absolutely delightful nursery near Dillon.  I've also heard of Nature's Enhancement in Stevensville, and Windflower Native Plants in West Glacier, but haven't had a chance to visit yet.
Also visit the Naturalist's Mercantile in downtown Missoula.  This new and much-needed shop offers all kinds of goods for nature watching and wildlife study, including a great selection of birding supplies.

Building Materials
So you've got your plants, your seeds are ready to go, and now it's time to do some hardscaping.  Build a winding little path around some raised beds.  Or a birdhouse.  Or a greenhouse.  Your first stop should be Home Resource, the building materials re-use center, where you can usually find anything you need for your projects, and a million things you didn't know you needed besides.  I also like to support Mark VanderMeer's Bad Goat Forest Products, which is dedicated to sustainable forestry practices, and just a great crew to work with.  Pacific Steel & Recycling is a good place to get scrap metal to play with, and they support a whole slew of charitable organizations in the community too.  Of course, you can also go to Ace, Murdoch's, Home Depot or Lowe's as well.  And check out Boyce Lumber if you're looking for something special.  They were the only place in town that carried the cedar shakes I was looking for.  The only place, can you believe it?


So many markets!  All year long!  Whether you're looking for plants and seeds, garden art, or like-minded folks to spin yarns with, the market is always a good bet.  The mainstay is the downtown Missoula Farmers Market, which runs Saturdays and Tuesdays in the summer.  Right next door is the Missoula Saturday Market of arts and crafts, more popularly known as the People's Market, where you can soak in all the creativity and inspiration western Montana has to offer.  Also on summer Saturday mornings is the Clark Fork River Market at Caras Park, which has the usual fruits-and-veggies farmers market fair, plus local meats, lots of prepared foods, baked goods, some crafts, live music...and mini donuts.  Nom nom nom nom nom.  Caras Park also hosts the Carousal Sunday Market, which is smaller, runs a little later, and is and waaaay less crowded (which suits me just perfect).  If you don't want to come all the way downtown, the Orchard Homes Farmers Market (Thursdays) and Target Range Farmers Market (Sundays) serve the west side of town.  And don't let winter scare you!  The Missoula Winter Market at Mullan & Broadway runs Fri-Sun, October to April, and the Heirloom Winter Market is held Saturdays at the Fairgrounds.  There's also the Missoula MADE Fair, held once each summer and again around Christmas.  The MADE Fair is masterfully put together by Carol Lynn Lapotka of REcreate Designs, and features hundreds of artisans...the best of what Western Montana has to offer.

"Missoula has more non-profits per capita than anywhere else in the country," goes the saying.  While I'm not sure that that's exactly true, I do know that we have a TON of incredible organizations that work their asses off to make this community a healthier, happier and safer place.  A few that might help you out on your wildlife gardening adventure:
Montana Native Plant Society-Missoula is in the Clark Fork Chapter.  They have lots of field trips and learning opportunities and really knowledgeable folks who just love botany.  What more could you want? 
Montana Natural History Center-Dedicated to nature education, MNHC offers workshops, naturalist courses, field trips, a cool exhibit room, kids summer camps, and more.  They also do a lot of work with the schools, training the next generation of nature rompers.  A great place to volunteer...help out on a field trip, or a discovery day, or a bird count, and learn something while you give back.  It'll make you feel awesome.
Five Valleys Audubon has a bunch of cool volunteer and learning opportunities.  It's a great way to take part in citizen science, monitoring nest sites or counting migratory birds.  They lead field trips all summer long.
Missoula Urban Demonstration Project (MUD) is the sustainable living organization that's been around forever.  They have a great demonstration site on the Northside where you can take workshops on anything from brewing beer to strawbale construction to car maintenance.  Another excellent place to volunteer.  Members get access to the Truck Share program and the Tool Library, where you can borrow pretty much any tool you can think of.  Sweet deal. 
Missoula Butterfly House is a relatively new insectarium, and has been making a really great impression so far.  They're all about community education, and a great place to learn about pollinators, insect ecology and the endlessly fascinating world of bugs.
Missoula Children & Nature Network is dedicated to building lifelong connections with nature for kids who, with their jam-packed schedules and computers and whatnot, are all-too-often cut off from the natural world.  This is a good place for families to learn about nature exploration opportunities in the community.

With millions of online resources to choose, sometimes the problem is not a lack of information, but rather so much coming at you that it's impossible to wade through.  As far as wildlife gardening and nature study in western Montana, these are the places I find myself coming back to:
Plant Identification:  Missoula's own Peter Lesica wrote the book on the botany of western Montana.  Literally.  He really is the premier authority on the flora of this region, and his Manual of Montana Vascular Plants is dense and thick with taxonomical gold.  But for the casual floraphile, it might be a little heavy. Montana Plant Life is my go-to for plant ID online.  I wish I could figure out who's behind it.  Easy to search, good pictures, good taxonomical info, as well as edibles and medicinals, poisonous plants, weeds, etc.  The list isn't super extensive, but it's a good starting place.  I have a feeling they don't keep the "proper" currently accepted latin names up to date, but you know what?  Neither do I.
I also use the Montana Field Guide, although I find their photos pretty lacking.  When I want to REALLY get to know a plant, I look at the USDA Forest Service species profile.  It's concentrated on wildfire effects, but includes pages and pages of pretty much every single natural history detail you could ever want to know about the species in question.  Fascinating stuff.  The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center out of Austin is another go-to for wildflower gardening, although it doesn't focus solely on Montana plants.  Also check out this handy Pollinator-friendly Plant List made for Montana gardeners.  And of course, learning about plants means learning about weeds, and the Montana Weed ID page is a good place to start.  Also pick up a copy of Weeds of the West; it's an excellent reference book with helpful pictures.
The Northern Rockies Natural History Guide is a fun online field guide to the plants and animals of this region.  If you want a hard copy field guide, Lone Pine makes the best ones (at least for plants.  Sibley is the one for birds, and Kaufman for insects, in my opinion.  But everyone has their favorites!  Seriously, though.  Lone Pine.)
And speaking of birds, I'm addicted to this WhatBird site.  Find a bird you want to identify, and they help you narrow it down until you've got it.  So easy, so fun.
If you want to learn about our fungal community, check out Montana Mushrooms and the Western Montana Mycological Association.
If you want to learn about our wild bees, go to the MSU Extension Native Bee Guide or the Montana Bee Identification Guide.  Or check out my post on Resources for the Wild Beekeeper, of course!
And while this relates more to growing veggies than native plant gardening, I have to mention the Bokashi Composting that Mike Dalton is doing up in Great Falls.  It's...just...I can't even tell you how cool this stuff is.  Go to his "Gardens from Garbage" page and you'll be hooked.
And finally, if you want an all-around excellent overview of wildlife gardening in Missoula, I cannot recommend David Schmetterling's Montana Wildlife Gardener blog highly enough.  David and his wife, my friend and mentor Marilyn Marler, have created an urban jungle in their small residential yard, teeming with native plants and wildlife.  David's blog is funny, super smart, and chock full of projects that will delight and inspire you.  David and Marilyn also do personal garden consultation through Butterfly Properties Garden Coaching, providing professional advice and expertise focused on creating sustainable landscaping that supports local biodiversity and water conservation.  They're a dream team, and come highly recommended.

So there you have it!  Compiling these resources in one handy spot is an ongoing process, so please, if you have any favorites that I left out, let me know!  We're lucky to live in such a vibrant, energetic community, and with all the awesome stuff people are doing out there, I'm sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.  

~Missoula's Official Ambassador~


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