David Domanski-Miville’s garden is a place with two distinct personalities.
His backyard is all about the food.
“It’s more of an urban farm,” he said.
That means raised vegetable beds, a chicken coop and fruit trees. He built his own grape arbor and has planted several varieties, including Interlaken, Concord and others.
His front yard is devoted to waterwise flowers and trees. A white picket fence surrounds berms planted with waving grasses, salvia, yarrow and cacti.
“Not too much food,” said Domanski-Miville, “though lots of robins are out there right now, chewing on the serviceberry.”
Domanski-Miville is a New Hampshire native who came to Boise four years ago by way of Florida and Texas. He teaches in the dual language English/Spanish program at Boise’s Whitney Elementary and lives and gardens on the Bench. When he moved into his house, his yard was “one no one ever went into. There was a bit of lawn, but in the backyard there was truly nothing. Except field bindweed,” he said.
Domanski-Miville set about transforming his property into the compact, concentrated garden — as well as urban farm — that it is today.
Nary a blade of Kentucky bluegrass, nor an azalea, nor a rhododendron grows here. He grows lots of plants that make sense in a Western garden instead — plants that don’t need a lot of water and grow well in soil that is more alkaline than acidic. This includes classics like quaking aspen, yarrow, big sagebrush, columbine and milkweed.
But he grows oddities, too, among them a clump of dragon arums, also known as voodoo lilies. Their early summer bloom is big and showy, velvety and purple. Spectacular as they are, the blooms smell like rotting flesh. They’re still showstoppers.
But then, so are the 50 different types of sedum and cold-hardy cacti Domanski-Miville grows, including five different agaves, four different colors of ice plant, and cacti with thick, pancake-sized “paddles,” and other cacti that bloom a shocking magenta.
Domanski-Miville focuses on low-water plants and natural garden techniques. He shies away from the use of insecticides.
“I think of weeds as an invitation to engage with the garden,” he said. “Gardening is equal parts stamina, hard work, creativity and perseverance. If you don’t enjoy the process, and you’re looking for a static effect, gardening might not be for you.”
He strategizes to control weeds by planting densely with tough plants like lamb’s ear and Jupiter’s beard that create thick, colorful clumps.
An informative host
Domanski-Miville’s garden was recently included on the Idaho Botanical Garden’s 2017 Private Gardens Tour.
He happens to be in a book group with Nell Lindquist, nursery and greenhouse coordinator and garden tour search coordinator for the IBG. Their group met at Domanski-Miville’s house earlier this spring.
“I knew he was an avid gardener and plant collector, but was blown away when I saw his garden. He took the front yard from a very typical ‘lawn and a tree’ to what you see now and that was something worth sharing with the wider community,” Lindquist said.
“His backyard is a highly functional, yet beautiful space. And he did it all himself.”
Since he is a teacher, Lindquist said she also knew Domanski-Miville would be an “informative host.”
“Our mission is to educate people about gardening possibilities here in the Treasure Valley. We added David’s garden as a wonderful example of taking a plain vanilla yard and creating an exciting garden,” Lindquist said.
Domanski-Miville is a fastidious and studious gardener, keeping an alphabetized, ever-expanding list of the plants he grows. It’s grown to 210 items, broken down by trees and shrubs, forbs, (a.k.a. herbaceous, flowering plants), grasses, cacti and succulents, bulbs, annuals and biennials (plants that grow over the course of one year versus plants that grow over the course of two years). He’s also registered his yard as a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. Requirements include providing water and food sources for birds and animals, as well as cover.
Domanski-Miville gardens and farms with an eye for design as well as ecology and habitat. In growing grapes and tomatoes, he intentionally chose varieties that will give him a mix of sizes, shapes and colors: reds, greens, golds, and purples. The aesthetics even extend to living creatures.
“When I picked my chickens, I wanted them to look nice as a group of chickens,” he said.
Those who attended the garden tour got to see Domanski-Miville’s foxtail lilies in bloom — tall, odd wands of sulfur yellow. He fielded lots of questions about ornamental grasses, in particular the 14 clumps of little bluestem that grow throughout his garden. Little bluestem offers lots of advantages, he said. Birds eat its seeds. And then there’s the color: brilliant blue at ground level with pinkish apricot stems.
“At twilight, the color is surreal,” Domanski-Miville said.
A few places to find cold-hardy cacti
▪ Geoscape Desert Nursery: A nursery located in Meridian specializing in cold-hardy cacti, succulents and perennials for rock gardens. The nursery is an online business. See the selection of plants and place orders online at geoscapenursery.com.
▪ Orton Botanical Garden, Inc./Plantasia Cactus Gardens: A nonprofit botanical garden at 867 Filer Ave. W in Twin Falls, Idaho, open from April 1 through Nov. 15. Visitors are welcome but must make an appointment by emailing LaMar Orton at email@example.com or by calling 208-734-7959.
The garden hosts an open house/plant sale each spring. Plants are also available to order online at plantasiacactusgardens.com.
▪ Check with favorite local garden center for other options.