Artwork for podcast GREEN Organic Garden Podcast
Replay of 63: Montana Wildlife Gardener | David Schmetterling | Missoula, MT
7th August 2017 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 01:07:21

Share Episode


Originally published Jul 20, 2015

David Schmetterling is a wildlife gardener and biologist living in Missoula Montana who has created a wildlife garden on a small city lot. Using only native plants David and his wife have created a natural landscape that is home to countless birds, butterflies, and other insects that needs no water or irrigation other then the vegetables they grow in their greenhouse and beds. This amazing interview shares David’s passion and knowledge for growing a place that is an extension of home and lifestyle that is enjoyable and sustainable! Check out his blog at the Montana Wildlife Gardener to learn more about his amazing educational garden and yard.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a biologist by trade, a wildlife biologist, but my interests are more broad then that. I’m fascinated by the natural world,  I consider myself a naturalist more then just a wildlife biologist in that I love birding, insects, plants and everything related, and obviously my career path has taken me to a place where I can do that full time. I also have a background in art, architecture and design. I love building things. That’s kind of where my interest in art and architecture really started at an early age as well. I’m a welder, and woodworker, in college I painted. I just like to make things. I love to cook, probably because I love to eat and that really keeps me busy gardening.

I grew up in Maryland.  I’ve lived in Missoula, MT for 22 years now, it’s a wonderful place to be for a lot of reasons,  especially with a career in Fish and Wildlife management.

How did you get to Missoula from Maryland?

It’s a good questions. I love growing up where i did in Maryland, I had a lot of opportunities and had a lot of opportunities to explore the Eastern hardwood forests and things like that. I loved growing up there in terms of wildlife and amphibians, and reptiles, it’s such a neat place to be from. Montana, from a young age, it was always a place I really had a fascination and I hoped I would someday be able to come out here and fortunately I was able to get a job here and stay.

Me too, I read a book about Montana in Fourth grade, and in college I got a map out and said this is where the trees are, and FVCC wasn’t quite big enough so I headed to UMT and then met my husband in Eureka planting trees and I’ve been here ever since, 22 years ago. I have sort of a funny story, I went to school in Missoula with this girl, and she was like, I want to go to Maryland, doesn’t that just sound so pretty Merry-land?

That’s true. It’s pretty neat, I have really fond memories of it. I think that’s something expressed in my gardening. Just a sense of place,  and whether you’re in Maryland or in Montana, there’s so much to love about those places and every place in between, and the uniqueness of our landscapes and the diversity of our plants and wildlife and landscapes and its so important to preserve. And that’s one of my biggest problems with the landscape design industry is the homogenization of the U.S. Because we have such a diverse, there’s such diverse pallets of plants and animals that are nowhere else in the world, and so many people are so quick to give up on those, and transform their garden into what unfortunately is an ideal from France or England or something else, and not our climate or not our place. I think my blog, Montana Wildlife Gardener if I still lived in Maryland would would have a much much different take on things. Equally beautiful and an equal representation of the place I still choose to be.

Maybe after we can talk about some people from Maryland I can use for a guest?

Susan Harris, and Garden Rant ….

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

That’s a great question, I don’t know that I have one, I wish I could tell you I remember the first time I put my hands in the soil, and planted a pea and watched it grow, unfortunately I don’t have that kind of memory. Gardening is so much about growing plants in a way, living outdoors, a lot of times people isolate themselves from the outside world, and even think of their homes or even their gardens as being separate from nature. To me it’s kind of like one and the same. I like creating comfortable and interesting spaces outside in the garden, when I talk about garden I’m talking about my whole yard. In my yard, I have a vegetable garden and native plants, I don’t have any lawn, I have a lot of interesting fascinating places to explore! And I love it!

What I consider every successful garden to be is an expansion of your lifestyle or an expression of your lifestyle. My garden is so integrated into who I am and what I’m trying to do in the world. So in a sense,  my first gardening experience was playing in the dirt, lifting rocks, just getting an interest in nature. And then since then that’s what I’ve strived to do at home, is create a garden that represents a place that I live,

Hey Listener’s I’m still in the process of editing this…

I will get to it ASAP!!!

providing place for wildlife

a place for me

a place to cook,eat,


grow vegetables,

canning and [preserving foods we can eat all year,

being outside and connecting to nature

How big is your garden then? It’s teeny by most standards.

I live in a small center lot in the middle of Missoula, MT. There’s reason for that, so it’s inconvenient and inconvenient. I work on sone side of town and she lives on the

We love fishing, hunting, hiking, birding,

and we live right in the middle of town so we can do it.

It [it us close to services, we can walk or take our bikes everywhere,

That’s one of the best things about Missoula is biking. 

There’s always reasons to drive and not to drive.

Every successful garden should be a reflection of that persona’s lifestyle

you should be able to learn about them a little bit.

We actually wrote down our goals for our garden a long time ago.

It is something really important to us as biologists, we wanted a place for wildlife,

it’s an expansion of our living space. We have a small house

Open waste garden with a sense of place.

We live in a place with

that has never been depicted in

you look up xeriscaping you get pictures of Az

or you see garden pictures from the Rocky Mountains West, you see pictures

but it’s not what we have here.

Just form a conservation perspective the short grass prairies is under appreciated

it’s the absents of things, not what they contain

it has a lot of romance it’s depicted in songs and things

it’s vast beautiful and complex and poorly understood

the prairie of montana is as different as you can get

that’s what I can get

I can easily get distracted.

Wanted to create a Montana garden using plants that are only native to the Missoula area and that might seem really limiting but it’s appropriate.

with are native plants, what’s native grow well in Eureka then maths gonna thrive in Jordan, or Ekalaka,

the different ce between Eureka and whitefish and libby and troy

look at precipitation, Missoula gets precipitation a year,

we’re pretty moderate here, we don’t have high winds, hail, like that wo so we can grow a lot more then places that have more precipitation east of the divide

better success and if your goal is to attract wildlife

so just using Missoula native plants we

I’m curious about the wildlife, you’re bringing in, in the middle of town? What kind of wildlife are you attracting I know listeners wouldn’t want skunks and raccoons.

Because of that there are reasonable expectations about what we want to attract. We don’t really get deer ,but I would love it if we could get deer in our yard.

Insects, birds, and even small mammals.

Back to expectations. Even though we know Missoula has migratory elk heard in our yard, we could plant all the bunch grass, were probably not gonna draw them in and that’s probably a good thing.

we hav over 70 species of birds use our yard, not a bad eagle flying overhead,

it’s using the garden, it’s the diversity of native plants in our yard.

the reason why, birds eat insects, insects eat plants and the ones they’re gonna eat are native plants, and typically food for the large for insects.

we don’t have conventional bird feeders, but our yard is a feed, were ve created this habitat

people like numbers of things,

countless number of insects, the things that can happen in a small city lot, not only plants but things that you find in the natural world, standing snags, ricks, brush piles, those sort of habitat features, attract animals,

creates a ni interesteding place,

yesterday I was interviewing a woman who grows wildflowers, farmers that plant wildflowers next to their vegetable 

I also talked to a bird feeder woman from PA, who talked about the

Are you gonna share with us some of the native plants that are growing? Do you have fruit trees? Like apples or pears?

In terms of native plants, we have over 100 species of native plants in our yard. And it’s kind of funny to thin about that. Our goal was to use the plants native to Missoula area, and a lot of people said that’s gonna be really limiting, but it’s not, that diversity of plants means different things, we have stuff blooming from March through

we just wanted to go outside and see a lot of flowers

we have an abundance of flowers.

We usually have a 5 gallon bucket on a walkway with free cut flowers for people because the flowers thrive

the big thing we wanted to accomplish was not to irrigate, the only thing we water, is our vegetable.s Water is such a scarce resource, we need to think about it

they’re just ornamental plants, its not ag great use of drinking water, the best use of water is for something you’re gonna eat. Most of it hasn’t been water in 10-15 years. Not just plants that are native to Missoula.

Even this spring with such a dry spring that we

I don’t want to, I don’t want tot baby plants I want them to survive, there’s plants all the time that aren’t gonna get tended. I don’t want to baby a plant along. My typical strategy is once a plant get established, might take a full season or a year, but then that’s it it’s on its own. One of the many thing I like about that, you get to experience it’s growth and maturity and sciences. that’s what connects me, it looks appropriate when you drive around Missoula, you look out on the horizon you see the prairies or the mountains are a different color. Our garden is in the process, plants are curing, turning golds or tans, seems like

turing the appropriate color for this season. Most of the vegetables are not native or even to this continent, They need heat, I like to grow plants, I love my favorite food to eat is to cook Thai food, one by growing it in montana because we donation have a big market here. Specific foods and plants, we have a greenhouse,

that’s where we grow a lot of peppers, eggplants, chilis,

a lime tree. Kaffir lime.

The leaves are used in thai curries and stir fries has a bold unique flavor you an’t get anywhere else, in the oldest winter we bring ti ni but it

It’s dry and it

That’s what the greenhouse

much of the year

shade cloth on our greenhouse, its too hot and too dry

sun is just too intense

we have an exhaust fan that’s solar that really help brings the air house and thermostatically controlled windows

I guilt specifically for montana. Only windows are on the south side, the west side is

angle of the roof is really steep

in wintertime the sun is only

wouldn’t be

step roof in the winter would

Your architecture background is coming into play

I like to build things, I like to make things, it’s an extension of my lifestyle

which everyone’s garden shall be

The goal of our garden is to provide education because we were trying these things to use Missoula native plants, to create a demonstration of what short grass prairie is not typically wa goal wolf what most people gardens it’


have explaining why we don’t have ea lawn, it’s really helpful, people have really come to like it and enjoy it and come by throughout the year to see the changes

we’ere trying to provide a different aesthetic honor the beautiful plant and animal species that we have here,

what we don’t have is a lawn and a couple of tulips and then complain about the tender eating the tulips and speaking of the plants

specking about the diversity of plant,s

I have a list of what ewe have in gate yard, IT ondt’ think it’s really that meaningful, document every plant hat flowers everyday.

that sounds like a  big project.

there were 81 days staring, I took a picture and loud ed it to my Instagram site, I missed a bunch of common grasses and plants, to look back and see all the species flowering at the diversity of plants, typical suite of plants, none of which might be beneficial to flower or insects or birds.

P{Probably you’ve been doing this over the year, kind of started out slowly and adding things as things went along. Right?

I think a couple of things, one gardening should be fun, enjoyable,

Doesn’t have to be complicated


strate small

learn from your failures, it shouldn’t’ e intimidating I see so many people intimidated by the wealth of info out there, we’ve been doing this formula and how much info out there is overwhelming

if you don’t like it you can move it, and if you really don’t like it you can compost it.

don’t get too attached and if something doesn’t work out, you can change your garden so much easier then you living room?

We moved in there in 1999. Prior to moving in we started to growing lots of plants and growing plants in spots moths ahead of time. Seeds my wife had collected, seeds we had collected hunting, there weren’t really options for getting native plants. Still is the Montana Native Plant Society. A gateway, start locally with your own native plan society of what to grow, how to grow it, where to find them.

Variety o f courses. WE never dig up pants from the wild, salvages form other great places. In the 90’s Missoula grew outwards. So the consequviesnce of that, my wife who’s a botanist organized savaged activities were they went in

supplied us and lots of people in the area with lots of native plants living tin Missoula

there are several native plant centers around

even the big garden center

in the early 2000’s we wanted to show them that people wanted to buy these plants, in Missoula it’s easy to buy these plants,

it doesn’t have to be difficult. Some people like the challenge of growing from seed and saying that every plants

some plants are really hard to grow from seed.

Do you have to do that stratifying?

Fortunately in Montana, The Magic of Montana Native Plants: A Gardener’s Guide to Growing Over 150 Species from Seed  plants. How to grow

going through the gut of an animal, you can see what’s gonna grow through your yard.

some need to be

some need

well drained soil,

for the last years or so, we

native plants coming up in the neighbor’s lawn, in the crack sin the sidewalks, moving them or giving them away.

all a weed is sis something unwanted. if you came and looked at my plants the weed s that you see are probably all native plants people are playing money for

coming up in the alley, dig them out of my neighbors lawn, it’s taken a while, it’s been fun to watch.

one of the misconceptions is they

re not suitable for neighborhood, you can use them with all different design considerations, yo can have a wild prior a cottage garden, I view plants as tools in a landscape, tools in a garden, I don’t get particularly attached to just one.

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

digit, made in the US have a lifetime warranty but your not gonna need it, kind of like a hori, hori, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it. Great tool

makes weeding easy, indestructible.

Sustainability that’s so important not making a decision or performing an actin that can’t be reversed. That concept is important. How we treat our land, our garden, our plants, that’s why organic gardening is sustainable

Be more mindful of how we use resources. I think we have develop things

Deception of other climate culture, we have such unique landscapes in our country

it will encourage people to get in touch with the natural world, it will encourage play appreciation for a lot of things we are losing, insects wildlife, natural places.

In general

you get the right plant in the right place and it’s easy.

that sort of successes inspires people

thinking about

perennials, strawberries or grapes, esp grapes in the garden.

Got any secrets/ we haven’t hd art easiest time growing grapes

I have 3-4 species of grapes, a stubbed blue and a kay gray. seeded grapes that we use for jelly, we needed up getting rid o t one of the genes, we were getting like 6-7-lobs a couple of ramrods, kay gray, new, seedless grape.

Those waive ordered, stubbed blue, and homed are all

Cornell extension service they have fantastic friseurs.

but they are incredible reassure for all things agriculture an stuff.

Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?

Just getting started. To

Gardening should be fun, enjoyable or approachable, not expensive or complicated. Shut start. So many resources averrable, you can find out the answer to anything, it might not be right, start small, but just start. My wife Marilee, is a fantastic botanist. We have such a good relationship, partner in...