After facing down the challenges of an abnormally wet, cool spring and early summer, Bibler Gardens is already entirely sold out for the month of July as it prepares to open up its summer season this week.
For the rest of the year the only opportunities left to tour the grounds of the private Kalispell garden—complete with Australian black swans, Argentinean black-necked swans, tens of thousands of annual and perennial flowers, manicured lawns, and expansive views of the Flathead Valley—are in August.
Tyler Hawk, the manager of the garden, said that as of July 18 there are just a few slots left on select dates for private showing events. In those cases 10 or more people can book a private showing at a cost of $20 per person, with a $160 minimum charge.
In recent years the tours have been selling out faster and faster, which Hawk said he believes is connected to the garden’s growing popularity because of its work on behalf of Flathead Valley Community College. The garden hosts a number of events throughout the year for which the proceeds go toward student scholarships at Flathead Valley Community College. The July self-guided tours, called “Splendid Summer Evenings,” are among those that benefit the college. The final set of self-guided tours benefitting FVCC, called “Sweet Summer Days,” take place at the beginning of August.
The garden debuts for tours in May, and then goes on hiatus until July as gardeners and staff work to overhaul the grounds into a more seasonally appropriate array.
The gardens were originally designed by Sam Bibler, a petroleum engineer who designed, planted, and cared for the gardens from 1979 until his death in 2002.
Jeanie Teusant, the head gardener, said she and the other staff members work to maintain Bibler’s vision of the garden.
“He always said it’s a land painting. And so he tried to paint a picture with the land,” Teusant said.”
Teusant previously had a tree nursery, and has worked at Bibler Gardens for nearly 12 years, and has been the head gardener for between five and six. She said that this year was the first time she’s seen plants at Bibler drown because of soil oversaturated from rainwater. Teusant and her staff have also worked to combat an increase in fungal disease issues caused by the cool, wet weather.
The weather hasn’t been kind to the annual geraniums, despite the two-and-a-half months they spent in the greenhouse.
“They just would not root, and they still are barely rooted. And you know, they got one disease, and then they got another disease, and we had to keep fixing it,” Teusant said.
On the other hand, the roses at Bibler Gardens have been thriving with the increased moisture.
In addition to the weather-related issues, Teusant said she’s also had a staffing shortage to contend with, which has meant making some adjustments to the scale of work that typically goes into turning over the garden into its summer form. Typically about 30,000 annuals are planted in a 30-day period. This year 20,000 annuals were planted.
Some of the perennial beds have been transitioned into trees and shrubs, and there are spaces where the soil is visible, which defies the rule of thumb at Bibler Gardens which says you shouldn’t be able to see the dirt in the flower beds.
Still, even to the naked eye the growth appears dense. Pausing at one roughly 4-foot by 4-foot plot, Teusant works from the ground up pointing out each flowering plant layered in an arrangement of increasing height.
“Here we have lobelia, and zinnias, and then we have geranium, and salvia,” Teusant said. “And this is leucanthemum, which is a Shasta daisy. Up here we have delphinium, falling over, poor little guys. And then we have some sunflowers, and monarda, which is also bee balm, and then filipendula in the back, and some more delphiniums and some rudbeckia.”
This plot, and plots like it throughout the garden are part of the broader vision of the Bibler Gardens, in which the beds of flowers follow an organizational pattern that is meant to not immediately look like a pattern to the naked eye. Amid the alternating arrangements, the uniformity is occasionally broken with flowers that provide unexpected splashes of color, breaking up the consistency and working almost like accent marks amid the broader array of plants.
One of the goals at Bibler Gardens is to create an “illusion of perfection,” with “imperfect things.” The imperfection Teusant finds, and in some cases has to accept, can be frustrating, to the point that she said she has moments of panic leading up to the opening of tour season. But once people see the garden, Teusant said those feelings give way to a sigh of relief.
“If you think about it my job is to go around and find all the flaws,” Teusant said. “I go around all day long and look at everything that’s wrong. And so when I have tours that’s my time to look at what’s right. So that makes me happy, because then people say ‘Oh I like this’ and ‘This is beautiful’ and ‘That’s great,’ and then I see through their eyes, and then the flaws disappear.”
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