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Bitterroot Secret Garden Tour July 18
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Bitterroot Secret Garden Tour July 18

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Offering an outdoors experience as a time to see beautiful things, be refreshed and encouraged, the Bitterroot Secret Garden Tour will be held July 18.

The Bitterroot Secret Garden Tour invites visitors to enjoy unusual landscapes, meticulous gardens and gorgeous yards that are not usually available for public viewing.

Organizer Kielian DeWitt said the 2020 tour will be special.

“I’m excited because we have very unique gardens with diverse design and they run the gambit between large and small, and little tiny gardens that are just charming,” she said. “We have interesting hardscaping, greenhouses, arbors, a Japanese bridge, a handmade fence, interesting statuary and handmade pots. It will be a unique experience.”

Tickets usually go on sale before Mother’s Day but were delayed for a month to be certain the state was open following the COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines. Tickets sales begin Friday, May 30, at Moeller’s Nursery, K & S Greenhouse, Cooks’ Gardens, Bitterroot Nursery and Chapter One Book Store.

Tickets cost $40 and usually sell out in the first few days.

“It’s crucial that people get there early,” DeWitt said. “There are 300 tickets available but they don’t take reservations and they don’t hold bags. There is a limit on the number of tickets for several reasons — parking, because we don’t want to overwhelm the gardens and it is a fundraiser for the valley.”

As a special perk to participants, each ticket comes with a bag full of gardening delights valued at over $40. This year inside the bags are write-ups on each of the gardeners and their gardens, seed envelopes, a list of flowers of the year (iris, lantana, hydrangea and lavender), a map to the garden tour locations and a little surprise. There are also coupons or items from Bitterroot Nursery, Caras Nursery, Cooks’ Gardens, Cottage Garden Greenhouse, Evans Ace Hardware, Fine Gardening Magazine, K&S Greenhouse, Lakeland Feed & Supply. Marchie’s Nursery, Mikesell’s Fine Jewelry, Moellers Nursery, Pink Grizzly, Robbin’s Hallmark on Main, Scented Garden and Westslope Distillery.

“We call those donors pollinators as they provide the goodies for the swagbags,” DeWitt said. “This year the factory that provides our bags was closed due to COVID so it is a craft bag with cloth handles, not our usual, but we still have a great design.”

One garden on the tour is owned by Lisa Kehmeier and has been a project since she and her husband bought the property in 1999. The relaxing and lush level space has a water feature, a greenhouse, an archway, a fire pit and several seating areas.

“Every year we just keep adding and I keep dreaming up new things,” Kehmeier said. “I think we’ve maxed out now. My husband is a good sport, we’ve built it all ourselves. It is very peaceful. There will be so many flowers in July.”

This year’s Secret Garden Tour Committee is DeWitt, Karol Klakken May, Mimi Jergens, Cheryl Waterworth, Julie Bethman, Laura Burnham, Susan Levenstein and Betsy Merrill. Original tour founders included Deborah Bedey, Becky Homan, Klakken May and DeWitt.

“This is the sixth-year of the event and six years ago four of us in the coffee shop talked about as gardeners what is there to do in January in Montana,” DeWitt said. “We decided we wanted a garden tour and we wanted it to benefit local charities. Each year the committee revolves and changes as needed. It gives us something to do. It has gotten big and I’m glad to have a large committee this year.”

The committee members advise participants to follow the COVID restrictions.

“We’re comfortable that since this is a walking tour people will be safe outside,” DeWitt said. “We also recommend they wear masks, keep six-feet apart and keep their hands washed.”

She said that typically not everyone shows up at one garden at the same time.

“We’re comfortable with that but we still want people to be cautious,” DeWitt said.

The tour is also a one-day charity fundraising event and this year all of the ticket sales go to benefit the Ravalli County Museum.

“I think people aren’t always aware that the museum is a nonprofit,” DeWitt said. “This is how they maintain and offer their programs, their educational program, their programs for kids, they keep tabs on the history of the valley and maintain the archives. It’s going to a good resource.”

The tour has sponsors at different levels – Orchid, Rose and Delphinium. Sponsors are First Security Bank, Wildflower Confections & Boutique, United Country Realty, Bloom Landscaping, Donaldson Brothers, Montana Bilss Artworks, Osburn Irrigation and Rocky Mountain Natural Beef.

DeWitt said the garden owners are generous and the participants are careful.

“The times I’ve been on the tour I cannot believe how appreciative, cautious and careful people are,” she said. “There’s not one plant broken. I had stones with thyme growing over and people took care not to step on the thyme. Gardeners are really nice people and they are very careful.”

Purchase your tickets beginning Saturday, May 30, for the Bitterroot Secret Garden Tour that will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 18.

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