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Community support blossoms for Helena Valley nursery owner with cancer

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Johnson's Nursery and Gardens

Terry Johnson, owner of Johnson's Nursery and Gardens, poses Monday for a photo inside one of his greenhouses.

Most people in the Helena area who know Terry Johnson would tell you he has a green thumb, as evidenced by the large number of folks who have gobbled down home-grown goods from his garden for years.

But he was surprised by the amount of community support that blossomed when he and his wife posted on Facebook Saturday that he was undergoing cancer surgery and needed to sell some of the herbs, hanging baskets and plant starts beforehand.

Johnson's Nursery and Gardens

Customers shop for plants inside a greenhouse at Johnson's Nursery and Gardens on Monday.

Since then, he said there has been a steady stream of cars at Johnson’s Nursery and Gardens at McHugh Lane and Sierra Road in the Helena Valley. 

“I am just overwhelmed,” Terry Johnson said Monday. “Yesterday was absolutely incredible.”

He said at one time he counted 17 cars in his small parking lot on the 19-acre farm he and wife, Lisa, have owned since 1989, and some vehicles were parked along the roadway.

The Johnsons posted Saturday that they wanted to “ask a big favor of our Helena community.”

“After 7 (years) Terry's cancer has returned and he needs to have surgery soon but as you know we have a Nursery full of beautiful plants, hanging baskets, vegetable starts etc that need to be gone before we can fully focus on his recovery," Lisa Johnson wrote. "If you're looking to buy flowers, baskets, plants etc anytime soon we'd love to show you what we have.”

His surgery for clear cell carcinoma is June 3.

Lisa Johnson said Tuesday she was surprised by the public reaction. And she too, was overwhelmed.

"We always knew our customers were wonderful," she said. "But this is fantastic."

She said they had full greenhouses that she and Terry had started seeding back in December, and were ready to sell, but people weren't coming out because of the gloomy weather. She said Terry’s doctors wanted his surgery to be done as soon as possible, May 24.

“Well, we knew that was impossible because he knew that's our peak selling time,” she said, adding the surgery was moved to June 3.

She said the social media post has brought in not only regular customers, but new shoppers as well.

“We have a tendency to sell out early, but the season has been so late,” Terry Johnson said, adding he wants to make sure everything is taken care of at the nursery before his surgery.

Johnson's Nursery and Gardens

The nursery and garden is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays and open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. other days.

He said there is a good amount of stock left, and hopes to reduce the inventory over the Memorial Day weekend.

The garden is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays and open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. other days.

Johnson's Nursery and Gardens has 2 acres of gardens and 15.5 acres of hay, Terry Johnson said. In the fall, he has a pick-your-own pumpkin patch.

“I like to see the kids come out and pick out (a) pumpkin,” he said.

Terry Johnson said Monday he had cancer seven years ago and had major surgery at Huntsman Cancer Institute - University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City.

“It thought I was home free after five years, but it returned,” he said.


This was posted on Facebook by the Johnsons on Sunday.

He had a tumor on his upper back and had backaches. He then had an MRI done, and it caused such concern that he was airlifted to Huntsman and underwent six hours of surgery.

He praised Huntsman and its staff.

“I can’t say enough,” he said.

Terry Johnson, who retired as the state legislative fiscal division’s chief revenue forecaster, calls Johnson's Nursery and Gardens a small business that serves different functions.

It’s a greenhouse that early in spring offers herbs, hanging baskets and plant starts. It transforms into a produce market when the garden produce arrives and then it is the pumpkin patch in the fall.

Della Ranard of Helena and her spouse, Bob Johnson, loaded tomato plants into the back of their vehicle Monday.

Or, as they call them with a grin, “tow-maters.”

They were both there because of Terry Johnson’s Facebook post.

“Mr. Johnson has been a great guy all these years,” Ranard said.

It wasn’t just the Facebook post that lured them to the farm; the two say they are regular customers.

“I like to come out and get vegetables when they are available,” Bob Johnson, who is no relation to Terry Johnson, said, adding “We wanted to support him.”

Johnson's Nursery and Gardens

Lisa Johnson, right, talks Monday with a customer at Johnson's Nursery and Gardens.

Terry Johnson said he has been surprised by how many people’s lives have been affected by cancer.

“It’s definitely a widespread disease,” he said.

He said he has had mixed emotions about his upcoming surgery.

He said they are seeing a small growth in the same area, but he is not having real severe pain, “so that is the good news.”

“I’m concerned but yet I am not concerned,” he said. “Any time you're dealing with cancer it has to be a concern.”

He said it is good that he will have the same surgeon he had seven years ago.

Johnson's Nursery and Gardens

Customers shop for plants inside a greenhouse at Johnson's Nursery and Gardens on Monday.

Terry Johnson grew up on a farm outside of Deer Lodge and said that as a child he had a garden linked with farming operations.

“On a farm you really get associated with life and the earth,” he said, adding he has had a garden ever since he graduated from Montana State University and came to Helena.

“I had it in my blood and it’s my passion,” he said. “I always had a garden.”

Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.


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