June 22, 2024

Jody Wilken: Belmont Blooms

If Corinne Melchers could see the gardens at Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont today – bursting with blooms in pinks, purples and yellows – Jody Wilken hopes she’d be pleased.

Master Gardener Jody Wilken is landscape lead at Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont

Master Gardener Jody Wilken is landscape lead at Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont

As landscape lead at the 18th-century estate of the famous American artist and his wife, Wilken is tasked with maintaining the standards of natural beauty set forth by the late Mrs. Melchers. Records of what she planted and Garden Club of Virginia guidelines provide a template for maintaining the historic grounds, which Wilken embellishes with her own expertise.

“The discipline of having to stay within a timeframe is helpful to me,” she said. “Left to my own devices, it would probably be more of a hodgepodge of plants that I love.”

She was already in the weeds, as they say, when she landed her current position in December 2019. Having worked part time at Belmont for years alongside predecessor Beate Jensen, Wilken knew the flow of the seasons. Summer’s filled with weeding and watering. Fall means planning for warm weather’s return. Winter’s for paperwork catch-up and tending less prominent areas of the 27-acre property. And spring? Well, spring is showtime!

Wilken grew up fascinated with her grandfather’s Ohio farm and her grandmother’s complementary green thumb. Now a Master Gardener, she’s shared her expertise with others through stints at the local extension office, the Fredericksburg Farmers Market plant clinic and Richmond’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. She earned the Southern Garden History Society’s Young Professional Grant earlier this year, and grows tomatoes, melons, peppers, onions, garlic and herbs at her Stafford County home.

“I guess it’s in my blood!”

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: When I’m out on the grounds and people ask about certain plants. It’s nice to be complimented. I take a lot of pride in my work.

Q: What’s most challenging?
A: The physical aspect of it, especially in the heat of a Virginia summer. The plants need to be cared for regardless of weather, and they don’t care if the gardener is hot, sweaty and tired. I have to be careful not to overdo it.

Q: What’s your favorite season?
A: Spring, although it’s also the busiest. The gardens at Belmont really put on a show from late March through early June.

Q: What’s your favorite plant?
A: I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t have one. My favorite color in plants is deep blue, uncommon in the plant world. I have an iris at home called “blue suede shoes.” It’s gorgeous.

Q: What’s your favorite flower-filled area at Belmont?
A: The four triangle beds planted with antique roses and hundreds of tulip bulbs and daffodils in spring.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I spent 21 years as a flight attendant and didn’t really start gardening until I retired in 2001.

Q: How do you spend your free time … other than gardening?
A: My husband and I are passionate about good food. Chopping and prepping is relaxing for me. I’m also an avid downhill skier, but I don’t get to do that enough in Virginia!