Great Falls For Ian McKeown, it was all about the Christmas trees. As someone who spent most of his life working at garden centers and farmers market, when the Vienna native was looking for a path, he decided to follow the Christmas trees.
“When I was in high school, I would sell Christmas trees every winter, and always made some good money at it. I decided to attend college at N.C. State because that’s where most of the Christmas trees, especially firs, come from,” he said.
Having attended two colleges previous, McKeown found that many of his credits wouldn’t transfer. He filled those spaces with “nothing but horticulture classes.”
After graduating last year, he returned to the area to start his own landscaping company. On a chance drive along Georgetown Pike, he saw a sign advertising a garden center for rent, and he knew he had found his latest project.
McKeown and his girlfriend, Laura Murray, opened State Gardens at the end of September, aiming to make it a one-stop shop for pumpkins, squash, flowers and more.
“When we first saw the place for rent, I thought it would be a great place for a Christmas tree stand, which I’ve always wanted to run,” he said.
THE MAIN BUILDING at State Gardens is filled with local arts, from metal sculptures to handblown glass spoon rests, dip trays and ashtrays, to a selection of photographs by local photographer Walt Lawrence.
“People certainly don’t come here expecting to find art, but once they come in, they seem to like what we’ve got to offer,” McKeown said. “We got about 30 handblown glass pumpkins that have sold a lot, we’ve got about six left. We also have glass ornaments from the same artists, which we’ll be getting more of as the holiday season approaches.”
The highlight of the holiday season for McKeown will be when the Christmas trees arrive on Nov. 29.
“Most places have the standard Fraser fir and not much else, but we’ll have at least six species of trees, and I’m looking to get up to eight, including four species of fir, Blue spruce and white pine,” he said. “My personal favorite trees are the grand fir, which have this incredible smell that will fill your entire house. They have sturdy branches and softer needles than the Fraser fir. I’ve been looking into getting them stocked here, so hopefully we’ll have them.”
Along with Christmas trees, State Gardens will also have custom made wreaths and garlands for the holiday season, and McKeown says they are planning to have Santa stop by every weekend after Thanksgiving.
With hopes of making State Gardens much more than just a seasonal stand, McKeown and Murray are already dreaming of the possibilities.
“I learned a lot during my time in school, and we’ve heard a lot of interest from people about taking classes here. Plant propagation is something not a lot of people know about, but it’s very interesting,” McKeown said. “There’s sexual and asexual propagation where you can use seeds, cuttings, bulbs to create and clone your own plants.”
Gardening classes are just one possibility for McKeown and Murray.
“We’re brainstorming ways to get whole families in here. If Ian can teach some horticultural class, I could teach some children’s classes, like how to make a birdhouse,” Murray said. “People come in and tell us things they would like to see here, and we keep a list going, so we’re definitely hoping to be here for a long time and we’re trying to get creative in what we can do.”
Many members of their steadily growing customer base are enjoying State Gardens so far, and would like to see it become a permanent fixture.
“I’m glad this is a functioning garden center, rather than just an empty lot, and certainly rather than some kind of housing development,” said Bernice Gaudly of Great Falls. “I’m very intrigued by their knowledge and interest in making it a successful business, and I can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store for planting season next spring.”
STATE GARDENS is located at 10106 Georgetown Pike, less than a half-mile west of the intersection with Walker Road. More information is available at www.state-gardens.com, and at facebook.com/StateGardensLLC.