Landscape designer Linda Iverson combines native plantings and colorful flowers to create an elegant cottage garden in Bozeman, Montana
“You can’t help but be inspired by the natural world when you’re in Montana. The landscape here is so big and so prominent,” says Linda Iverson, a landscape designer known for the varied terrains she has crafted with her signature light hand all across the Big Sky state. “No two projects are ever the same because of the diverse settings,” she says. But one project in particular stands out as a departure.
When working for a family in Bozeman, Montana, Iverson was presented with a river-bottom property with ample water, a wide-open meadow and a dense grove of aspens. Her first thought was to create a meadow of native woodland plantings, but the client wanted something more sophisticated. “It was a wonderful chance to go beyond what I would normally do,” she says.
Responding to her client’s wish for an elegant landscape that would offer brilliant blooms and cut flowers, Iverson created what she calls a “Montana cottage garden.” She looked to the colors and textures in the surrounding meadow as a starting point and brought in a mix of natives and ornamentals—including billowy flowers like peonies and hydrangeas, not often associated with Montana’s rustic setting. “I wanted the landscape to blend into the setting, but I also wanted to give it an artistic feel,” she explains.
The clients’ residence provided additional inspiration. Designed by architect Larry Pearson of Pearson Design Group, the rustic structure, built from Montana moss rock and reclaimed barn wood, “is not a house you want to cover up,” says Iverson. “It’s a house you want to accent.”
To complement the weathered materials of the home’s exterior, Iverson planted flowing beds around it, separated by lawns of soft fescue grass. “We wanted to echo the stone on the house,” she says, “so we used the same stone periodically throughout the garden’s edges.”
As for the selection of plants, the choices were driven by the drastic seasonal shifts. “I’m very attentive to how a garden goes through the seasons,” says Iverson, who relied on red twig dogwoods, aspens and evergreens to stand up to the thick snow cover of winter and planted woodland bulbs to “help you wake up” in early spring. Summer’s white echinacea and tufted hairgrass make way for the riotous colors of autumn and its black-eyed Susans and woods blue aster. “This garden has a long season of blooming interest,” she notes.
While flowering beds and spiky grasses mark the front of the property, the back of the house, sheltered by the aspen grove, provides the perfect spot for an outdoor living space. Iverson collaborated with Pearson on designing a flagstone terrace and low stone wall to define the area, and interior designer Stephanie Sandston, of Shack Up Studio, added the last layer.
“I wanted to bring in some fanciful sculptural elements,” says Sandston, who created two distinct areas for gathering. An oversized marble-and-mahogany table, based on a French garden design from the 1600s, serves as a buffet for entertaining and provides a setting for Sandston’s seasonal decorative vignettes. Tucked into a curve of the stone wall, a concrete faux-bois dining set is paired with a modern rusted-steel Rais fireplace.
“Both of the tables are outside year-round,” says Sandston. “Apart from being really useful, they’re also sculptural elements, which is very important in the dead of winter. They’re both pleasing and highly functional. It doesn’t get better than that.”
WHEN IN BLOOM
“You’re able to do things in Bozeman that you can’t do in other parts of Montana,” Linda Iverson says of the city’s unique microclimate. “It gets more rain and has wonderful soil.” Iverson took advantage of these attributes—along with the client’s elegant vision—and used her go-to native plantings alongside ornamental species not often found in her landscapes. “I love natives and didn’t want the landscape to feel like it was somewhere else,” she explains, “but I also used a lot of ornamentals. We were able to stretch our boundaries.” Here, Iverson shares her top three plants from each category:
Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) One of the first flowers to bloom; soft, wispy seed-heads give this plant a long season of interest. We paired it with the ornamentals salva ‘May Night’ and white creeping phlox.
Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) This plant is slow to green up in the spring but has a wonderful soft texture for most of the season. Even though it’s a prairie grass, it seems to tolerate rich garden conditions.
Bush Clematis (Clematis integrifolia) We planted these velvety blue-violet nodding flowers near the aspens along with columbines and globeflower.
Siberian Iris ‘Caesars Brother’ (Iris sibirica) Its strong vertical foliage is maintained throughout the season, and we paired it with golden thyme for contrast and good “footing.”
Peony ‘Couronne d’Or’ (Paeonia ‘Couronne d’Or’) It has an exceptional fragrance and billowy white flowers. The perfect cut flower.
Spirea ‘Halward’s Silver’ (Spiraea nipponica) A great shrub for low-light areas of the garden. The fine-textured foliage makes a great backdrop for big-leaf geraniums.