Marina Snow is a novelist and gardener, but she's got the eye of a landscape painter.
Her home at 214 S. Fourth St. W. is accented in cayenne red, so the flowers and shrubs she's planted in place of a stubby lawn complement the warm color of the Craftsman residence.
"I design it as I go along depending on what I can find and what will live here," Snow said.
Snow moved to Missoula four years ago after her sister called and told her the house next door was for sale. Her sister recommended Snow buy the place because she wanted her sibling to be her next-door neighbor.
Snow agreed. She moved from Sacramento, Calif., bought the dilapidated house, and fixed it up.
When she was done with the Herculean job of restoration, the roof no longer sagged, the flagstone slabs aligned into pathways, and the work earned her a historic preservation award in 2008.
"I will never do this again. Ever," Snow said. "But the gardening is a pleasure forever."
The author of "Ailanthus Park" tore out the lawn because it was lumpy. She wanted to plant an interesting landscape, and she doesn't see the point of watering grass or mowing it down.
"Who wants to cut grass? Do you? Do you want to cut grass?"
On the other hand, she does want to smell the sweetness of the lilies of the valley, with its flowers hanging in bundles of small bells. She does want to meander around her shrubs and rocks along a stone pathway.
To dig out the lawn, Snow used a shovel, a rototiller (it didn't work well) and an excavator that was on site anyway as part of the restoration project. The man who drove a piece of heavy equipment pushed up a pile of stones, so Snow used her own "homegrown rocks" in pockets of the yard and boulevard.
"Roots and rocks, rocks and roots, that's what you get when you dig," Snow said.
She isn't the only gardener in Missoula who has noticed that, either. At the register, the folks at Pink Grizzly keep a list of rock garden perennials and plants that survive dry climates, said Leah Rediske, a nursery manager.
"Some plants are a little more drought-tolerant than others," Rediske said. "Typically, things like succulents are pretty good."
The names of the plants she suggests gardeners set in rocky places sound as delightful as they look cheery: hens and chickens, snow-in-summer, creeping thyme, blue fescue and rock cress.
Along the boulevard in front of Snow's home, a row of Great Basin sagebrush is growing, and in between, the lean cupped leaves of the lilies are splayed. Yucca plants stab their way out of the earth, and a shock of ornamental grass grows tall. The plants cost money, but readying the strip in front of the home didn't at all.
"I just dug it up, so it cost zero," Snow said.
The big sagebrush plants ran $7.50 piece, the lilies of the valley $3.50 each, and the 3-foot ornamental grass cost $9 at the farmers market. Snow poured bark around her boulevard trees, and bags of it run $9 each.
In the front yard, the colors of the sun weave through the landscape, petals of yellow, gold, orange, blood red and purple. Snow plants them so they complement the cayenne. A stand of gold tulips seems to reach to the sky, bright orange straw flowers grow, vermillion columbine bloom, and bleeding hearts cascade in deep red.
Small shrubs lace through the yard and around a scoop of pansies. Last year, a short and twisted curly hazelnut offered one nut, and Snow saved the prized offering. The leaves from a kinnikinnick shine in another corner.
As she pulls up the occasional grass shoot and mulls the right place for yellow potentilla, Snow thinks about the plot of her new book. Maybe she needs a couple more characters, and perhaps she will name one of them Vera.
"It works beautifully, gardening and writing," Snow said.
A handful of small stone critters keep her company, a trio that made the move from California. A little hippopotamus curls in the yard, a horned toad greets guests who head up the walk, and a Komodo dragon perpetually lies in wait.
Then, there's Snow, standing on her porch in her sun hat, taking in the glory of a garden well tended.
"I get a lot of pleasure from planting and growing things. This is pleasure," Snow said.