By Leigh Mills 

My involvement with the gardening and seed-saving scene here in the San Luis Valley these past few years has gotten to where a few folks have called me a garden guru.  I haven’t accepted that title because I really don’t know that much; I tell folks I just get better press.  However, there is a real garden guru in our area and her name is Matie Belle Lakish.

Matie Belle picked the name “Garden Guru” for herself when she decided to start her gardening business.  Her experience and wisdom certainly fit the title.  She began working with plants when she was young and has been gardening “for more than half a century,” she says. Matie Belle grew up in Texas, where she and her grandmother would work side by side for hours in the garden.  Matie Bell considers her the most significant influence on her gardening path which has taken her to northern and southern California, the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, and the Ozark Mountains.  In each place, she would tap the knowledge of the “old timers” to learn about native techniques and herbal remedies. She recommends two books that are good for this area:  Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province by William W. Dunmire and Gail D. Tierney and another one, which I’ve also enjoyed, is Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden by Gilbert Wilson.

She’s lived here in Crestone off and on for 20 years and at her current home’s location for the last four. I had a wonderful time exploring her beautiful garden and learned all kinds of things while we walked around.  Matie Belle says her main focus, when it comes to gardening, is to “look for ways to meet our nutritional needs while growing food on our own land”.  She’s always looking for varieties of plants that will help us do that.  She calls her growing space an experimental garden with the focus on “beauty, nutrition, and plant hardiness”.  What I saw was an amazing quilt of flowers, herbs, fruit trees, strawberry plants, raspberry bushes, vegetables, and native volunteers.  She picks seeds and plants that are open pollinated with strong reproductive qualities.  Pinetree Seed Company is her source for seeds and her favorite plants are apricot trees and raspberry bushes.

Matie Belle and members of the Holistic Living Alliance are busy organizing the 2nd Annual Crestone Garden Tour happening on Saturday, August 17.  Last year’s tour was very successful and attended by many people.  This year’s tour will start earlier in the day and allow more time at each stop so tour participants can enjoy each garden and ask questions.

As the Garden Guru, Matie Belle can help answer gardening questions you may have, consult with you regarding garden design and troubleshooting and, on a limited basis, help you in your garden.  She has several clients right now and is able to accommodate a few more in her busy schedule. You can reach her at 719-256-4252 or

Leigh Mills has lived, gardened, preserved food and saved seeds in the San Luis Valley for over 10 years.  She’s written the “As the Worm Turns” column for three years and has started a high-altitude gardening and seed saving blog called The Infinite Bee.  If you enjoy reading her monthly, visit her daily at, where she welcomes your comments, questions, and suggestions about gardening, saving seeds, and practicing life.