Why Buy a Garden Center?

Christina Larson

At first glance, it seems like a huge leap from a career in the restaurant business to a garden center owner. True, I did retire in December 2016 from nearly 40 years in the restaurant industry, a career I loved. But then one day barely a month later, I received notice that Guilford Garden Center was on the market. So much for retirement! I knew that blending my love of gardening with my business knowledge and leadership experience would make for the perfect fit. A few calls and visits with Chuck Voight, his family and representatives to negotiate the details, and here I was, holding the keys, right at the end of the busy spring season!

My parents were business owners in a field they loved, too, for a time. I had hoped to join them after college (we figured that my Marketing degree would come in handy), but it didn’t work out. That gene that has lied dormant all these years has now leapt into action.

Gardening is not just a love of mine, more a passion. Ok, an obsession. Let’s just put that out there. In the past 5 years or so I’ve attended dozens of classes, workshops, and events through multiple outlets that I’ve outlined below with links to their websites for your convenience. The learning and experience turned me from hobbyist with more failures than successes into a serious plant geek:

Garden Writer Ellen Ashley

•••  Ellen Ashley, garden writer and consultant, was for a time teaching classes at her Summerfield home. In the garden. What could be better than that?! My first encounter was through a Groupon she put out for a discounted class. I took “Shade Gardening” that year, and immediately went home and installed one with lots of Hosta, Ferns, Azaleas, Hellebores, and more lovely plants that thrive in the cool understory of the hardwoods that line the perimeter of my back yard. The next year I took Ellen’s whole series of classes. Just fabulous! She ignited a passion for even more learning in me, which led to my involvement with NC Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program, and the Guilford Horticultural Society. Here are links to Ellen’s Learn to Garden Blog, and her recent profile in 1808. (photo: Derrick Brady)

•••  The next year, I applied for the Master Gardener Volunteer program, and jumped in with both feet. The series of classes are described as like taking a college course every week for 3 months – an accelerated challenge, for sure, and with the latest research-based information out of NC State University and NC A&T University, it’s updated regularly, so most of us continue to take the classes every year as refreshers. But the learning isn’t solely in the classroom, it goes out into the garden at the Guilford County Agricultural Center, 3309 Burlington Road in Greensboro. The demonstration garden is one place where we get to apply the knowledge we’ve gained, and witness the results with hands-on projects in all the themed garden spaces there. If you’ve never visited, please make time to do so in every season! This article in 1808 profiles my mentor in the program, Janet Sommers, and describes why she does it. I’m indebted to her for showing me the ropes and especially for sharing her wisdom about the importance of gardening for pollinators. Greensboro’s bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are thankful, too. Our motto: First we Learn, then we Teach!

•••  I also joined the Guilford Horticultural Society for even more education (just can’t get enough of this stuff!). The group of gardening enthusiasts meets the third Monday of each month, September – May, at the Greensboro Science Center to hear a one-hour speaker on a wide variety of topics. We also look forward to garden tours of both public and private gardens around the Triad, Piedmont, and beyond. The big event each year is the Hort Symposium in late Winter – not to be missed, with nationally-recognized speakers. We also have two plant swaps per year, and an end-of-season picnic. Annual membership is only $25.

Out of all of these connections arose my volunteering with Greensboro Beautiful and Cone Health Cancer Center’s Healing Garden. By this point I had to develop my volunteer gardening roadtrip kit, a little toolbox of hand tools and gloves! More on these organizations in a later post.

So you’re beginning to see the picture – I eat, sleep, garden, and repeat. Bringing Guilford Garden Center back into focus, then, starts to make perfect sense. My plan for relaunching Greensboro’s oldest garden center currently in operation will evolve over time, but includes some things that we’ve already put in place:

Our First Annual Tomato Festival!
  • In their place, we have introduced a Native Plants section.
  • Why natives/what’s all the fuss? These are plants that insects and wildlife have evolved with over time and made use of throughout their life cycles, helping to preserve and support our environment. We’ll conduct classes on landscaping with natives in the future.
  • We’ve also introduced a Rare & Unusual Plants section. It is our goal to surprise you with something new and different each time you visit us.
  • With the help of Landscape Architect Nancy Seay, we’ll be planting a mixed border along Milner Dr & Hunt Club Rd that will feature natives as well as other ornamentals. Pollinator-friendly, it’ll be our own little demonstration garden!
  • Our new logo features a butterfly, and the caption “Where Gardening is Fun”! Emphasis on FUN! Our Events, Classes, and Workshops will be announced soon, to help you have fun while learning new gardening topics. In fact, we’ve already held our first event – the 1st Annual Triad Tomato Festival was held Saturday, July 29 and really brought the fun to everyone’s favorite summer garden staple. The crowd-favorite this year was the Cherokee Purple for “Best Flavor” among the heirloom and hybrid varieties we offered for tasting!

I am so fortunate to have an experienced staff with great horticultural knowledge that can suggest solutions for every garden dilemma. Nan, Shelley, Drew, and Oscar are just the best partners to have in this adventure. And then there are the cats…a story for another day!

— Christina


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