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Branching Out

Hidden in a wooded corner, Silverbrook Nursery welcomes new neighbors, old friends to Lorton.

Before Silverbrook Road was a paved thoroughfare, before the South County School was a dream to be developed, before Lorton was changed into Laurel Hill, Silverbrook Nursery was there.

Tucked away in a wooded corner at 8408 Monacan Road, the 8-acre business has been catering to the landscaping and gardening needs of the southern portion of Fairfax County.

"The previous owner was here for 25 years, but we've been here for about eight," said Cindy Haley, whose father, uncle and cousin took over ownership in 1997.

Sitting inside a small office filled with files, papers, articles about plants and maps of Fairfax County, Haley and Terry Lindsay-Crownfield, another employee, swap stories about the changes that have become commonplace in Lorton over the past year.

"We all knew it was going to explode down here some time, we just never knew it was going to be like this," said Haley, who missed most of the frustrations of a road construction because her house is on the same property as the nursery.

"It's good to be so close to the center of the community," she said, adding she's eager for the Lorton Arts Foundation's Workhouse project to be completed so she can attend concerts close to home.

On the other hand, the influx of neighbors has nibbled away at the expansive peace and quiet that used to surround the nursery — which now has neighbors on Monacan and Silverbrook roads where wildlife used to run free in open fields.

"I don't want to see the quietness and wilderness go away, so I hope they don't overbuild," Haley said. "But I'm torn. I love that we have new neighbors. And we're right next to a park so that land's going to be protected, so we'll keep the wooded feel of this place."

Lindsay-Crownfield said she first visited the nursery as a little girl, when her father would buy mulch for his gardens from the original owners.

"This place used to be more industrial," she said, remembering three piles ... in the driveway, labeled "gravel, topsoil and mulch."

The mulch at that time was more like something taken from a barnyard, she said.

"It grew great roses but you didn't want to stand down-wind of it," she laughed.

THIS TIME OF YEAR, business has slowed down a bit, they said. Most of the Christmas trees have been sold to good homes, ready to enjoy another fresh fir tree or balsam wreath.

"Anything we have left over, we try to donate to the Lorton Community Action Center or some other charitable organization," Haley said. "If we have anything after that, it either goes into the chipper or we'll put it out in the woods to be a habitat for birds."

Wildlife have always been plentiful at Silverbrook Nursery, she said. "This whole area is very ensconced and rural," which means that an increase in houses has lead to an increase in the number of deer coming into contact with their new neighbors on the roads.

In addition, customers to the nursery are often greeted by Raleigh, an 11-year-old chocolate lab that divides his time between napping under Lindsay-Crownfield and Haley's desks or running out to play with the school children who come to the nursery for class projects.

"Our cat Milo used to be a mouser here, but when Raleigh started coming over, Milo retired to our house," Haley said.

Customers have been stopping by the nursery to check on Raleigh as of late. He has been undergoing chemotherapy to battle an aggressive form of cancer, she said.

"People are constantly coming in to see how he's doing. There are so many people pulling for him," Lindsay-Crownfield said. "He really loves people and they love him."

Several family-oriented festivities take place at Silverbrook Nursery throughout the year, giving Raleigh plenty of chances to play with his adoring fans.

KEEPING THE nursery a small, family-friendly place was key for Brian Haley, who purchased the nursery in 1998 along with his brother and son.

"People come here because they want to, not on impulse," he said, courtesy of their "off the beaten path" location just off Silverbrook Road.

"We try to make this a pleasant place for our customers," Brian Haley said. "We try to keep this a park-like setting."

With more than 1,500 homes expected to be built in their vicinity, he said his neighbors are quickly turning Lorton into "the next hub of Fairfax County."

Long gone is the idea of Lorton being a part of the county where no one wanted to live, Brian Haley said, who has seen a small increase in business but has no plans to change his nursery to a larger operation.

"It's not our goal to be a Merrifield [Garden Center]," he said, referring to a large nursery in Fairfax County. "We want to know our customers on a first-name basis. Many of our customers return every spring and fall and we want to continue to give them a lot of individualized attention."

Silverbrook Nursery, in his eyes, is "a neighborhood nursery," he said.

His son, Buzz Haley, agreed, adding that the change in that neighborhood has been "incredible" in the past year.

"This used to be a little country road," he said of Monacan Road, which was paved just last year.

Now that the nursery offers a landscaping company and gardening supplies in one place, business has increased slightly, Buzz Haley said.

"We're constantly trying to improve ourselves," he said, whether that's done by reaching out to new customers, building pavilions or planning their yearly Spring Fling, a customer-appreciation festival complete with face painting, pony rides and free food every May.

"This is a really pretty area," said Buzz Haley. "This area is great, everything is changing so quickly that it all seems really fresh and new."