December 1, 2023

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!

Four Important Loans Coming to Belmont

Gari Melchers (American, 1860-1932) Rainbow, Circa 1925, Oil on canvas, Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia

Gari Melchers (American, 1860-1932) Rainbow, Circa 1925, Oil on canvas, Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgi

Four paintings by Gari Melchers, including three never before seen publicaly at Belmont, will be featured in the upcoming spotlight exhibition Over the Garden Gate: Gari Melchers’ Falmouth, scheduled for October 5 through December 2, 2018.

Thanks to generous loans from private collectors and the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia, the loaned paintings—Gossips, Pear Tree in Blossom, Pot Hunters, and Rainbow—will be combined with a select group of images drawn from the collection at Gari Melchers Home and Studio and which reproduce local settings and villagers long familiar to natives of Falmouth, Virginia.

Joanna Catron, who curates the show, says that “while Melchers saw Virginia as an escape from the demands of his New York studio, the picturesque environs of his home and nearby Falmouth were too seductive to allow for much rest.” The result was dozens of evocative images that chronicle a simpler time and place.

The exhibition is Included with Museum admission. Contact: Joanna Catron at or 540 654-1841.

Gari Melchers Home and Studio

Paris-trained American painter Gari Melchers (1860-1932) is celebrated today at his 18th-century estate called Belmont, now the Gari Melchers Home and Studio, a nationally-recognized site featuring his fully furnished house, gardens and studio. Discover his legacy of portraits, landscapes and scenes of everyday life, the largest collection of his works anywhere. An expatriate for the first half of his career, Melchers eventually returned to America as WWI built up in Europe, dividing his time between a commercial studio in New York City and his country retreat in Falmouth, VA.

Gari Melchers (American, 1860-1932) Rainbow, Circa 1925, Oil on canvas, Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia

Gari Melchers (American, 1860-1932) Rainbow, Circa 1925, Oil on canvas, Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia

Guided Tours are available everyday with the exception of certain holidays from April through October, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and November through March 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Admission: $10 Visit


New Security Measures at Gari Melchers Home and Studio

Effective Sept. 1, the Gari Melchers Home and Studio in Falmouth, Virginia, will be closed to the general public between the hours of
5 p.m. and 10 a.m.

This restriction encompasses parking, photography, hiking, picnicking and any other activities on museum property during the hours specified. Gates at the museum’s entrance will be locked at 5 p.m., and grounds will be under video surveillance. Museum-sponsored programs and approved rental events that occur outside of regular hours will continue, supervised by museum staff.

“Restricting access to the museum’s buildings and grounds outside of regular operating hours is a necessary measure to ensure security of property and human safety,” said Scott H. Harris, executive director of University of Mary Washington Museums. “We look forward as always to welcoming visitors during our regular hours to discover the life and work of a noteworthy American painter and arts advocate.”

The Gari Melchers Home and Studio is a 28-acre estate and former residence of the artist Gari Melchers and his wife Corinne. The property, which is operated by the University of Mary Washington, is both a Virginia Historic Landmark and a National Historic Landmark. For more information, including hours of operation, admission rates, special events, and more, visit