A green thumb hidden within a mitten, February. It might feel like a juxtaposition to even speak about greenery come such a frigid, unforgiving month but here we are, doing the necessary work of planting ideas surrounding spring. Before we get too ahead of ourselves, though, let’s sit a spell in the nursery with Jon and Karen Switzer, the owners of Roots Garden Center on Poly Drive, and find out why this month is important and how we can make the best of these cold days.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about the term ‘fallow,’ as in letting the land lie fallow and giving it some rest,” says Jon. He and Karen own Switzer Landscaping and Nursery, which, at its core, is a business they bought from Karen’s parents Jerry and Ruth Anderberg about five years ago. Along with the business, they also inherited decades’ worth of horticultural and landscaping experience. It’s safe to say that they still learn a lot of things on the job through what Jon calls “the cost of tuition,” as he describes the process of learning and caring for new plants that our world is continuously harvesting from jungles much warmer than where we are now. But one thing that Jon zeros in on during this particular month is being patient and letting the ground rest while we do the same.
The dormancy of this season can lend us a fresh perspective, one that lets us notice little details and crave brighter or warmer things, and that’s something that Jon has come to really appreciate. Spring, summer, and autumn are demanding seasons in the landscaping business so winter is a time where he and Karen get to stand back and take a good, hard look at what they can offer to their community, and also feel gratitude toward all that is offered to them.
“The brightness that we want to offer to people is sort of a rest and reset, things like fresh flowers. We have Valentine’s Day, but our fresh flowers will be presented to people in a great way all winter long, so that’s always something that can add a lot of vibrance to a room and it makes a big difference,” says Jon. And he knows the flower arrangements will do their part during this marathon of a month because their florist is also an artist. “We hired Marie to do some of the design and cultivation of the space for us, and with that comes sort of a different feel of things like the bouquets…we love that we’re trying to invite a unique experience for creativity for people so that they’re actually inspired by that.”
Like most small business owners, Jon and Karen didn’t really see the big picture when putting together all of the puzzle pieces at first. When they first secured this Poly Drive location for Roots Garden Center, they knew they wanted to offer seasonal treasures like Christmas trees and poinsettias but they didn’t fully realize the historical experience it was for the community, how folks really folded into the season with warmth and local support. Naturally, this seasonality has bloomed with its own type of beauty and gifted Jon and Karen with the wholesome feeling of friendship I return. With Black Dog Coffee at their side, there is steady traffic flocking to and from one main craving: coffee.
“In the dead of winter, coffee is booming,” says Jon. He is thankful for the energy that this brings to the nursery, and he loves that customers who may just be looking to warm up with a favorite drink might end up finding an unexpected treasure to take home. “It’s kind of a sweet-spirited, symbiotic relationship between Black Dog and us, so we really are so grateful for their business being here and we just work really well with each other.” And since our attention to detail may be just a tad more refined this time of year, it isn’t lost on Jon that Black Coffee shares the same philosophy that Roots does—one that is centered around a relational experience. Many coffee shops feel the pressure to serve more, faster, but Jon is excited to be linked with likeminded people who cater to a lingering experience, where customers and friends can be inspired and feel warmth, even on the coldest days of the season, and engage in the timeless art of conversation.
“That generates more community,” says Jon. Serving the community in many different ways is another unexpected blossom on this firmly planted business. Jon and Karen knew they wanted to have an art gallery in Roots but even that has taken on a life of its own. During Winter Fest, over 40 different local artists are represented in the building, and Jon loves giving new artists a space for their art to be seen by the community. He also likes that the whole experience that exposure can offer to an artist, which helps that individual get an education on what the community responds really well to, and what could be altered for future sales.
As new artists are growing their businesses and new bouquets are being imagined and produced, Jon and Karen and their deeply thoughtful team of employees are focusing on our societal trends while remaining rooted in their passion. They’re offering their products and services to newcomers and natives alike, and they have some helpful tips for those who are eager to get their yards or properties in shape this coming spring.
“We always take it bite-sized,” says Jon. It’s easy for a project to feel overwhelming, both financially and physically, and there’s often this urge to redo everything, all at once. Jon recommends tackling one project at a time because, inevitably, that project will get bigger. Try choosing a shrub bed or a flower bed and let things grow from there. He’s also quick to remind us about this resting we are supposed to be doing. That’s important for our land and soil, too “Every year we sort of get this hilarious amnesia about how much fall clean-up we need to do, and if we can get it done in one fell swoop,” says Jon. “Leaves will actually contribute helpfully to some of the ecosystem of the soil over time.” This resting and rejuvenation will provide better nutrients and better water retention. Once that snow melts, you can pick up some slow-release nitrogen (Roots has their own blend) and purchase some starter potatoes to try your hand at indoor gardening before the season is in full swing.
If growing your own garden or changing up your outdoor living space isn’t on your priority list for the upcoming warmer months, indoor plants are of plenty once inside the quaint and cozy Roots Garden Center. In fact, it’s a sweet spot for staff and customers to just feel in the presence of thriving, green beauty, and what more can we really ask for come February in Montana?
“We’re both Billings kids—we grew up here,” says Jon. It’s important that Roots Garden Center and the landscaping business tend to this community, the same way one would look after a plant or seedling with faith in tomorrow.