Kalispell hillside home-and-garden tours showcase radiant landscape designed by the late Louis A. “Sam” Bibler
Story by Tristan Scott | Photography by Mandy MohlerEvery spring, the scene at Bibler Home and Gardens undergoes a transformation into a living mosaic of colors as thousands of spring bulbs come into bloom, painting the landscape in a fleeting coat of red, yellow, blue and orange.
By summer, the planted beds grow denser as the perennials are joined by a riot of annuals, and the garden puts on its breathtaking summer show.
Louis A. “Sam” Bibler designed the gardens and adjacent home, and assembled a menagerie of exotic animals on the property, offering tours up until his death in 2002.
Tyler Hawk, manager of Bibler Home and Gardens, said it was Bibler’s wish that the gardens remain available to others, and that they serve a public purpose.
“I think his vision was to make the world a more beautiful place and help the community,” Hawk said.
Starting July 20 and ending July 24, the gardens will open for their annual Splendid Summer Evenings tour, during which the public can visit and take a 90-minute tour for $10 per person and $3 per child. All of the proceeds go to the Flathead Valley Community College Foundation’s scholarship program. The tours run at 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
The summer tour kickoff celebration takes place on July 20, featuring a wine reception, light hors d’oeuvres from culinary students at FVCC and a discussion with Carol Bibler about the swans and miniature animals her father loved. Tickets for this special event are $60, or $100 per couple.
At first blush, the extensive gardens seem like a mirage – the ponds, waterfalls, sculptures, arboretum, and log stable an aberration from the forested hillside above Foys Lake, which cools the grounds and counteracts the sultry mid-July heat.
“A lot of people just don’t think this could possibly exist in Montana,” Hawk said.
Miniature Sicilian donkeys and goats lumber below the log stable, and Australian black swans paddle laps around the ponds, flanked by a fleet of cygnets. The thrum of hummingbirds and dragonflies commingles with the high-pitched moan of a wind harp made by Bigfork artist and metalworker Jeffrey Funk.
Hundreds of mature trees and shrubs pepper the property, and extensive arboretums of heirloom varieties – apple, plum and other fruit trees – coincide with a host of deciduous hardwoods, conifers and shrubs.
“It’s very rewarding,” head gardener Jeanie Teausant said. “We try to tailor everything we do to what Sam would want.”
Teausant has been head gardener since 2009, after moving to the Flathead Valley from Oregon, where she’d been in the nursery business for two decades. As the economy tanked, the nursery business withered, and Teausant counts herself lucky to have stumbled upon Bibler Gardens.
“I still can’t believe that I found this place, but I honestly could not imagine being anywhere else,” she said, surrounded by six-foot towers of perennials in the frenetic days before the gardens opened for spring tours.
And if the flower-festooned landscape seems incongruous with the surrounding valley, the Bibler home is just the opposite, designed to blend in with the hillside, its unobtrusive architecture belying a spacious and elegant interior.
“Sam really influenced the design of the home,” Hawk said. “He wanted it to fit into the hillside and blend into the landscape rather than stand out like a trophy home.”
However, the subterfuge only holds up until one peeks at the home’s ornate interior.
The home, built in 1978 and designed by the late Bill Bierrum, is furnished with an extensive collection of Victorian-era antiques, and features Persian rugs of both palace and tribal styles, ancient Persian bronzes, 19th-century tribal weavings, and a collection of Inuit prints and soapstone carvings.
Bibler traveled extensively, and having been stationed in England during World War II – during which he flew 25 missions in B-17 bombers – had occasion to view formal gardens on a grand scale, which contributed to his appreciation of beauty, nature and art.
A petroleum geologist by trade, Bibler and his wife, Jean, who also passed away in 2002, moved to Kalispell in 1966 and built the home on Lakeshore Drive in 1978, overlooking the Flathead Valley and Foys Lake area.
Bibler did all of the gardening himself, Hawk said, and while the formal gardens are situated on 5 acres, the property itself spans 16 acres, with orchards and an elaborate collection of trees flanking its outskirts.
The garden’s color scheme changes seasonally, sometimes featuring a moodier array of blues. But this summer, the gardens will showcase Bibler’s favorite arrangement – oranges, reds and yellows.
“That was always Sam’s favorite,” Hawk said. “He was a driven man and he made this place special. He loved art, and his own talents as an artist are evident here. It’s kind of a nice jewel that nobody knows about in the valley, and we like to think he’d be proud with how it’s been maintained.”