Do you love Roots Garden Center as much as we do? There is so much to see and do there, from annuals to perennials, flowers and trees, furniture, jewelry, a fairy hunt, coffee, and so much more.
Check out this interview with Nicole King, owner and broker of 41 Realty Group, and Jon Switzer, owner of Roots Garden Center.
Read on for the full transcript of the video.
Roots Garden Center — An Inside Look Into One Of Our Favorite Spots in Billings, MT
Nicole: Hey there, I’m Nicole King I’m the broker-owner of 41 Realty Group in Billings, Montana and today I’m with Jon Switzer. He is the owner of Roots Garden Center, this beautiful garden center that just opened at 2147 Poly Drive. Over the last several months, you’ve probably been driving by and seeing lots and lots of changes from the paint color to all of the old greenhouses coming down and all the new things going up. And I just really wanted to come down and talk to Jon and find out why roots, why now, his history, everything.
So Jon thank you for sitting down with me. You and Karen, your wife, have been in Billings a long time. Tell us that story, tell us how this came about.
Jon: Yeah so Karen and I both grew up in Billings. We met each other in high school, kind of friends throughout high school, and then as we kind of moved through college years and through different, you know, job opportunities in Billings, started dating, got married. We both had kind of some different jobs throughout our younger years and then a few years ago had the opportunity to buy Karen’s dad’s landscaping business and so with that came this small little nursery just below the zoo off of Neibauer Road.
And so that was a really fun space for us but as we started to grow and develop the landscaping, which we love to do which Karen is a part of and we’re 50/50 on and we absolutely love getting to work with different landscaping clients throughout the Billings area. We kind of saw this need to kind of grow our retail presence with plants.
So with that, I started to kind of keep my eye out for some fun opportunities where we could maybe do that. I knew we needed to have a better location than what we had to be able to grow and so I kind of romanticized the idea of having somewhere in town and kind of had an eye on a couple of different spots.
Along came this space last year and it was pretty wild the way it happened because everything with Covid was just starting to roll at that point and we kind of didn’t know what to feel about expanding our business in that time. And it turned out when everybody got stuck at home, people in the area got actually really excited and even nationwide, about plants.
Nicole: Yeah making the spaces they were in beautiful.
Jon: Yeah, yeah exactly. So since everybody was stuck at home everybody started working on their homes in one way or another and landscaping became one of those things. And while people took on a lot of landscaping themselves and so our landscaping even actually declined some. What went up even in our retail presence down off of Neibauer, was plant sales.
Nicole: And you’re keeping the Neibauer location, right?
Nicole: So you have two?
Jon: So that now gets the transition. We just could never do landscaping here as well as this retail garden center.
Nicole: Because there’s a lot bigger equipment and things like that?
Jon: Yeah, I mean, we’re making our own topsoil there, we’re not shipping that at all. We’re using local vendors for some of that stuff — places like Rocky Mountain Compost, based in Lockwood, which is a great organization in town. We’re using them to help us a little bit with some of the compost and that kind of thing. And then we actually make some of our own topsoil too and so we compost materials that we get from our landscaping jobs and then we process those throughout the year and turn those over. It’s actually a really neat recyclable sustainable process for people too, yeah.
Nicole: And you grow delicious melons.
Nicole: Oh my gosh, those are amazing.
Jon: I hate cantaloupe, actually, from the store.
Nicole: They’re not cantaloupe!
Jon: No, well, yeah they are, right? But they’re not like store-bought.
Nicole: They’re like a cross of some kind, aren’t they? They’re like a cross of cantaloupe and honeydew or something like that?
Jon: Some are yeah, we have a variety.
Nicole That is one that I’ve tasted.
Jon: I need to bring you some cantaloupe.
Nicole: Bring them all to me because I think they’re delicious. I love all the fruit.
Jon: But Jerry taught us how to make, how to do the cantaloupe. He’s been doing that with his family. They would — they actually raised money as a family to go on mission trips from the cantaloupe sales in town and so our landscaping clients have kind of come to expect that.
It’s this really fun thing. We even provide a little bit locally, just right down the road to Poly Food. We love doing that and we have just a really fun relationship with them and it’s just a really fun thing like just to learn that this fruit, cantaloupe, can actually grow really well in Montana.
Nicole: And tastes good, because you don’t genuinely generally like it.
Nicole: So the Jerry you’re referring to is Jerry Anderberg. He had Anderberg and Associates, and then when you guys bought that you changed it to Switzer Landscaping? So all the Switzer Landscaping trucks that you guys see driving around town and I think there’s still some Anderberg and Associates trucks. I followed one the other day.
Nicole: So any of those that you see around town, that’s Jon and his crew working on whatever the landscaping project is. Then how did you name Roots Garden Center? Because it doesn’t say Switzer Landscaping on the side of this building.
Jon: Yeah, thank you for asking that. So it’s all based on our roots being here, on our roots with Jerry. Jerry’s done this landscaping thing with plants in a horticultural background for 40 years in the area. And so when we bought that, what’s so awesome, and we even have some up there — he’s doing these gardens in a box. He’s still involved on a daily basis. Today we were blowing out or not blowing, out we were starting Spring clears for the organization with landscaping, and he’s still very much involved in the relationships.
I mean, you don’t leave something like that with 40 years. These people that we do landscaping for have become his friends and now they’re getting to be some of our friends too and so with that there’s a lot of deep roots. it’s just we kept on seeing like — this is right in the heart of Billings. So this place has roots already. People knew what this place was. We didn’t want to turn it into something that it wasn’t and that people weren’t familiar with. It had a track record of being successful in this space as a garden center.
Dave Marble, even one of the former owners came by, walked around the place with me for an hour and a half and, you know, his wife came by on the opening day, it was really precious conversations that we got to have and we hold them in high regard. Their roots that they’ve established here, I even went down and talked with Jason and Jen Marble. They are starting, you know, their new restaurant downtown with The Marble Table, and they’re doing awesome, and their roots are here too.
So we’re getting to continue some of that legacy now with our new business with the retail garden center here.
Nicole: I love it. So one of the things, and I was telling you this earlier, is I don’t live very far from here, just warning you. Just this morning, I was pulling out and I had to wait for a mom and her kiddo to go across the street, and then when I turned down the street they walked into the parking lot and they’re just on their way into here and I see that every day.
You know the street is lined with people who get out of their cars and walk over here and I love watching them walk back with planters, it’s so amazing. You guys haven’t been open very long. When did you open?
Jon: We haven’t even been open a week and we’ve already — people are clamoring! I mean, I literally saw a city council person last week come through doing this, like almost dancing and the people that are coming through here, it is so cool and we’re so grateful for that kind of response.
I can’t tell you the number of conversations with people where they’ve come up and they’ve said “I am so glad you’re here, it was so sad when the last organization transitioned on into a different thing.” And we really hope the best for them and I never want to wish ill for anybody and they’re great people too and they transitioned to a different thing that also gave us a new opportunity and we feel like we’ve learned some things and we want to try and make a sustainable go of it here.
Nicole: You don’t just have plants here. As I was walking around, you have lots of different products! What all can people find here?
Jon: And it’s going to continue to grow. I haven’t even publicly said this so I’ll share this in the list of different things.
Nicole: You heard it here first!
Jon: So, to share what’s going on today, I mean, we have these amazing trees. We really really like to specialize in trees and educating people and helping them to make a great decision for a tree.
Trees last a long time and we want the canopy of Billings to be fantastic. I’ve talked to a couple amazing local arborists who I hold in very high regard and we walk them through here, invite them into our space and want them to feel welcome and that they can participate in that canopy, so that’s really important.
We have all the shrubs and perennials and in case you don’t you know, for the audience who might not know what perennial means; a perennial comes back every year. So you plant it in the ground every year it’s going to come back versus an annual, which we have an entire room of annuals like these violas here and those every year will actually die.
They’ll die because they’re not made hardy to our zone.
Nicole: Oh, okay.
Jon: So that root structure just can’t survive Montana’s harsh winters, but they add so much color and there’s so much variety in the annuals that it’s really fun for people to plant it adds vibrance and delight in the season for people in their yards, in pots and so that’s why we also wanted to do that. It’s just really really fun. So this room, we want to just be explosive for people and constantly changing and what’s really fun too is these came out of Bozeman. So they’re Montana grown.
Nicole: That’s cool.
Jon: So we’ve got family up there at Visser Gardens and we love them dearly and they’re amazing people and I mean they’ve got five acres, if you can imagine, of just greenhouse space and it’s just beautiful this time of year. So it’s really fun that we get to work with them, bring in their stuff and have it here, it’s Montana grown. It’s awesome.
Nicole: That is really cool! And you have artwork, jewelry and pottery and oh my gosh, every time that I come here I see something different. Like the tables that you pointed out today that I had just walked past and not even noticing yet!
Jon: Yep, so we’ve got that, you know, Marie has curated this amazing group of local artisans who are amazing people with amazing works of art everything from paintings that were booked out for a year and a half on our art gallery which is so cool.
Nicole: So you’ll be featuring different artists?
Jon: Yeah, every three months it’ll change. Amazing people. The next one is a girl that i actually went to high school with at Senior and so it’s super fun. The one I wanted to tell you about that’s new that’s really fun besides coffee…
Nicole: And that’s which coffee company?
Jon: Black Dog.
Nicole: Black Dog coffee, yeah.
Jon: Super fun, super great coffee.
Nicole: It’s more to go than sit down. So their other shop is sit down, this one’s grab a cup, wander through all of the plants and all the things and enjoy just sort of a relaxing experience
Jon: Mariah and Rob are amazing people, super fun to have them here. And the last part which is coming soon is furniture.
Jon: So if someone wants to as they’re wandering, they want to shop some furniture and they want to try out a chair or something, they can sure do that. We are super excited to have some really really classy, cool furniture. I’m expecting it probably mid to late July.
Nicole: Because it’s coming from a long ways away last time I talked to you?
Jon: Yeah most of it. Some though we have available even right now like the table you were talking about, that table up front. That was a local guy that just came in and it was such a fun conversation with him and we created some unique pieces. So we really encourag people to come down and check that out. We actually built a table that has a planter in it.
Nicole: It’s a concrete table. So it’s got metal legs, concrete table and it almost looks like a geode in the center but then there are plants coming out it is so neat you have to come down and see it for yourself. And there’s different sizes of them!
Jon: And more coming!
Nicole: Right now, there’s little ones that are like this size, and there’s bigger ones and you said more sizes are coming.
Jon: Yeah, it’s really fun.
Nicole: And it’s a local artisan who creating that in his shop, that’s awesome.
Jon: Yeah, we’re super excited to have him and all the local artisan. The pottery is amazing, the candles…
Nicole: The cards, handmade cards! Those were so cool too.
Jon: So cool. And the texture on those, because you know they’re actually made by the painter.
Nicole: They’re covered in plastic, so I couldn’t feel the texture but I’ll take your word for it right now but I’m gonna buy some.
Jon: Then the cut flowers side.
Nicole: Oh my gosh, the flowers are beautiful.
Jon: I always missed not having more availability here in town, so being able to walk in and buy flowers for my wife Karen, and to have that experience is really fun. When we walked into the space, I wasn’t even intending that but then I looked and there was this amazing cooler space with a walk in cooler and I’m like, we have to try.
Nicole: There’s something about microgreens on the door? I didn’t actually go in there yet, but there’s microgreens in there too?
Jon: Yeah, so there’s a guy who came in just the same as Jesse with the tables. He came in, he and his wife and they’re fantastic people too and they are growing microgreens right here in Billings and they are awesome. I mean, our staff — we have to kind of tone down our staff from taking all the product because it’s so good.
When we get really hungry and get going really fast, sometimes we’ll just grab one of those things and go and they’re really really priced very well. They’re delicious, and there is a bunch of different kinds, including cantaloupe microgreens.
Nicole: Your favorite! So really, people could come down here and everytime they come they’re gonna see something different and new and fresh. Fresh, literally. Gosh, you’ve just created the most exciting space down here. I’m excited to live close to it to be able to walk over anytime and I’ve just loved seeing it take off.
Jon: Oh thank you. It was really fun even just talking withthe neighbors in the area. We want to be a blessing to them and everybody around. We’ve had neighbors come in and I said, I’m sorry about the parking, you know, May is going to be crazy. And they just tell me, they’re like, oh we’ve been here a lot longer than you, we know what’s parking’s like. We’re really grateful that you’re doing something. This space is beautiful, thank you.
Nicole: You have improved it significantly for sure.
Jon: And hat’s super fun for us to hear, we love our neighbors and we love being in the space. It’s really a blast and we want to continue to create — our team is I think my favorite part of the whole deal. They’re amazing people and what’s really fun is we have some really very educated people but then we have some people who are new to plants. And one of the most fun things that I’ve seen that we’ve gotten to experience is, instead of it just being like you know the management staff being the ones that get to create and design things like this experience out here or whatever— we’ve taken some of those new people and we might like even hand them an empty pot and then say create!
And they’re like, well, I uh, uh, and it’s really fun to go, what’s the worst that can happen? You put in the wrong colors together or something? Just take them out and try something different and we’ve created these amazing spaces with people that maybe otherwise didn’t know they could create things like this. They started to see how plants work and they’re starting to learn names of plants and now they’re educating other people and it’s one of the coolest things to watch. Plants actually aren’t that complicated. They aren’t they aren’t meant to be like inaccessible, they’re actually really fun and they bring people life, so it’s pretty cool.
Nicole: I love it. So, hours, location. Tell us all the things, how can people get here?
Jon: So Monday through Friday, we’re 8-6pm. We’re staying open intentionally for that time especially like as people are trying to on their way home from work or whatever. They have just that little bit of window so they can you know pick up a bouquet of flowers or something.
Then on the weekends we’re doing eight to four p.m. We just figure that those will be sort of the the most accessible hours for most people.
Nicole: Will this be relatively seasonal?
Jon: Great question.
Nicole: What happens when the winter comes?
Jon: So it’s all new to us. Obviously, there’s a lot of dormancy that happens with trees and with a lot of the shrubs, perennials, annuals, the seasons kind of transitions. But then we are hoping, I think we are planning to be open year-round.
Some things will change. Like some of our sales out here might look a little different. Indoor plants will kind of transition too. There’s a huge boom with indoor plants and we kind of want to be the go-to place in Billings for indoor plants.
Nicole: That sphere you built, so cool. That is so cool, it’s a showstopper.
Jon: My brother actually, based out of Red Lodge, did a lot of the CNC work on that. It’s a company space 10 — the architects with that organization created that basically as a giant jigsaw puzzle that you put together. They did that for urban environments specifically and they won a competition for it. All you need is 17 sheets of plywood and a CNC machine, so I called up my brother, and I said, ‘Hey Jeff, can you do this?’ and he said, ‘yep!’ And so we put it together.
Nicole: It looks amazing, you guys need to come check it out because it is so cool. And you can like sit inside it, so that’s really cool.
Jon: Yeah, there’s even a little surprise in there, they’re like kind of little pockets of them everywhere. There’s gnomes and fairies and there’s this little scavenger hunt that you can do throughout the entire place. Especially for kids, it’s like the best thing in the first. Especially on the weekends, people can bring their kids here, it’s super fun, there’s little gnomes and fairies and they get a little scavenger hunt sheet with crayons and it’s just so cute to watch kids racing around trying to find the fairies.
Then at the end at the end if they find them all they get a little prize.
Jon: It’s pretty cute.
Nicole: Did your daughter create that idea?
Jon: Yeah, Riley is 15 and she’s really creative and an amazing writer. We kind of started talking about the idea of coming up with some stories for each one of those gnomes or fairies instead of just putting them somewhere but actually bringing them to life a little bit with a story. And so Riley wrote everything on the sheets. It’s super cute and they’re really fun stories and she’s even based them off of some friends that she has.
Nicole: I wonder if the friends know? No, I’m kidding.
Jon: Some might not!
Nicole: So, a fantastic family environment, really open for all ages, all interests. Come down to 2147 Poly.
Nicole: You’ll see the Roots Garden Center sign it’s amazing, the beautiful black and white buildings. Come down, enjoy, look around, and come back frequently for all the new things that keep getting added. Jon, thank you. Thank you for creating this space and for sitting down with us today.
Jon: It was a delight to talk about it. I get super excited talking about it, being a kid that grew up in Billings it makes me jacked to get to do this now in the community and I hope it’s a great service to the community.
Nicole: I think it is!