Mountain Gardening

At the Tizer Botanic Gardens and Arboretum in Montana you’ll find a demonstration garden with plants carrying the All-America Selections label. They’re the ones that end up in catalogs and magazines as plants of the year.

Last month my hubby, Mike, surprised me with a road trip through Montana that included an overnight stopover at the Tizer Botanic Gardens and Arboretum in Jefferson City. No one could ever call this place a city. It is really just a tiny town just south of Helena.

The definition of a botanical garden is a collection of plants for the purpose of education. An arboretum is a collection of woody plants (trees, shrubs, vines and roses) for the same reason. Of course, I love to visit either of them to learn about plants when I’m traveling around.

Marilyn Quinn

Marilyn Quinn

Although I’ve been to other, fancier botanical display gardens in various states — even other countries) — I found Tizer Gardens unique.

We got there by following painted wooden signs down a graded dirt road. Tall fences surround the 7 acres to keep out bears, elk and other unwanted wildlife. You see, Tizer Gardens is beautifully situated along Prickly Pear Creek in the heart of the Elkhorn Mountains. It is in a narrow canyon surrounded by a wild landscape.

Although September was late in the season for my visit — many of the flowers were a little spent and past their prime for their best show — the place was still interesting.

Tizer Gardens is more than just rustic charm, although it has plenty of that. Among other things, the grounds are trial gardens for Colorado State University’s Plant Select Program. The purpose of that program is to seek out and recommend the very best plants for gardens throughout the Rocky Mountain region and high plains.

Plant Select was initially looking for plants that do not need a lot of water or that grow at high elevations and can manage severe cold. Although Tizer sits low compared with Jackson Hole, it is still at a high-enough elevation to get only around 60 consecutive frost-free days per growing season.

Tizer and other nurseries work cooperatively as part of the program to find climate-appropriate plants. They are ones that I might choose to plant in my own Wyoming gardens.

Tizer Botanic Gardens also does trials for the All-America Committee, an organization that has been around for decades, field testing, evaluating and introducing flowers and vegetables in a network of almost 200 display gardens across North America.

I’m familiar with All-America Selections because I see the “plants of the year” highlighted each spring in seed catalogs and gardening magazines. You may have noticed them marked with a small AAS logo.

Designation as an All-America Selections winner recognizes a plant for significant achievements proved to be superior to others on the market.

The All-America Selections demonstration flower garden at Tizer includes some colorfully named plants I hadn’t seen before: Twinny peach snapdragon, Jam’s ‘n Jellies Blackberry vinca, Queeny Lime Orange zinnias, Pow Wow Wild Berry coneflower and Arizona Apricot gaillardia. I particularly liked Big Duck Yellow marigolds and Cherokee Sunset rudbeckia and plan to try them out next summer in my planters and flower beds.

I must say I had a delightful time at Tizer Gardens.

We stayed in a cozy little log cabin in the middle of the property and right along the creek. A cloud of harvested and dried white baby’s breath filled with twinkling lights was suspended from the ceiling. The setting was sweet, and although the weather was bit cold and stormy I crawled under the quilts with a smile on my face and eagerly looked forward to the next day when I had the time to poke around the gardens some more.

Gardening guru Marilyn Quinn shares her green thumb knowledge monthly in the fall and winter. Contact her at

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