Day three of my visit to Helena, Montana, dawned bright and early, as I was slated to meet my host, Mike, for breakfast at the No Sweat Café in Last Chance Gulch, followed by a drive to Tizer Gardens. Alas, we discovered that it’s closed on Mondays, so our plans switched to Jorgenson’s, a restaurant and hotel that looks unassuming at first glance but that has quite a history. He told me it used to be a favorite hangout for politicians, with many deals being closed over drinks in the bar.
Fueling up for Tizer Gardens trip
It was a little too early for drinking, but the breakfast menu was packed with plenty of tempting options. I went for the homemade French toast, which was hearty enough to fuel me for a long day of walking ahead. After our meal, the first order of business was driving about 20 minutes outside of Helena, and up in elevation, to Tizer Botanic Gardens and Arboretum.
I’m an amateur gardener myself, so I was anxious to see the all the different species growing at Tizer, especially since it’s located in a place with such a short growing season. Since it’s at a higher elevation, it has a scant 64 days vs. about 90 down in Helena. Little did I know that Tizer Botanic Gardens not only has native plants, trees, and flowers, but that it’s also a testing ground for outside species and an official weather station for NOAA.
I learned all that and more from Richard Krott, the botanical wizard who runs Tizer Botanic Gardens and Arboretum along with his wife, Belva. For the first part of the visit, I strolled around taking photos of all the whimsical scenes and various sitting spots throughout the gardens. It’s a popular place for weddings, with a fairytale cottage that doubles as the bride’s dressing room, and it has a variety of paths to explore and play areas for the children. High teas are held periodically in the gardens, and I can’t imagine a more quaint spot to enjoy a spot of afternoon tea and other goodies.
Serene spots at Tizer Gardens
Tizer Botanic Gardens was wonderfully serene, with Prickly Pear Creek running through gardens teeming with colorful flowers. As you walk, you have to keep your eyes open for the trees embedded with tools and little scenes set up with gnomes, fairies, and the like. It would be a perfect spot to bring a picnic lunch and choose one of the resting spots and simply chill amidst nature’s lively rainbow. There were plenty of bees, of course, and I even spotted busy little hummingbirds flitting about.
After soaking in the floral ambiance, I had the pleasure of getting a tour from Richard, who took me over to the testing grounds where he tries out exotic species from around the world, including Australia, South Africa, and even Siberia. He showed me some rare and unusual trees, flowers, and plants, including hardy species that can live at the most frigid temperatures.
I also learned that you can grow grapes in Montana, which always gets my attention, since I’m always interested in wines from various U.S. regions. I did an online search after leaving the gardens, and sure enough, Montana has several wineries.
I also learned that Tizer Botanic Gardens is one of only three accredited private arboretums. While it might just look like a lovely spot to the casual observer, it’s also an important testing ground for the Plant Select and All American programs. It has 450 conifers and 500 different deciduous trees, along with the hundreds of flowers. If you visit, be sure not to miss the testing area, which is across the small road from the main gardens. Richard will also be happy to demonstrate how he trains the trees to grow in various “patterns,” as he’s doing in the photo below:
While Tizer Gardens is outside of Helena, it’s well worth the drive for both avid gardeners and vacationers who just want to find that “sweet spot” of serenity. Bring the kids along because there’s plenty of space for them to run and play and many fun little “finds.” I could have spent an afternoon just chilling out among the flowers and listing to the babbling of the creek, but a busy day was still ahead of me. Stay tuned for the rest of day three as I hop aboard the Last Chance Train Tour.
If you missed my previous posts, start with the first post from day one here.