The day could not have been more perfect to present the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce 2017 Agribusiness of the Year Award.
Monday was the first day of spring. The air was on the nippy side but stepping into one of the greenhouses at Windmill Heights Garden Center and the warm, moist air immediately embraced you.
There was lemonade. There were cleverly crafted individually wrapped cookies from Bijou’s Sweet Treats out of Luray.
And there was a baby – young Max, the four-month old son of Paul and Cori Hutcheson. And there were two proud grandmothers.
And, peeking out from one of the greenhouses was the man who started it all back in 1965, Mason Hutcheson. He didn’t want to steal any of the glory of the day as his grandson Paul was bestowed with one of the Chamber’s highest honors.
Back then Mason opened the business in Inlet, Virginia and then moved his family to its current location at 1901 Broad Street. Originally named “Ebenezer Heights Greenhouses” he started with one and grew that to a dozen over the years. Not only growing his greenhouses but his reputation as a man who not only knew horticulture but had an innate ability to share his love and passion for the plants he nurtured.
When you talk about passing things down to your children and grandchildren, his business may have skipped a generation in terms of ownership, but now it has landed in the lap of 26-year-old Paul Hutcheson and his grandfather couldn’t be more pleased.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” he said with a smile that said it all.
As a youngster Paul would help in the greenhouse and Carl Stafford, who was on hand from the Virginia Cooperative Extension Office, reflected on the young man that he remembered training in a master gardener class. He watched over the years as the elder Hutcheson’s fondness for growing and cultivating things had a ‘trickle down’ effect on the young boy who eventually headed off to Virginia Tech to study, what else, but horticulture.
In 2011, Paul returned to the family business and the following year, in January 2012, Mason officially sold it to his grandson Paul.
Never far from the operation, the elder Hutcheson admits that he helps out watering and is always there for advice. And his pleasant personality is a fan favorite for locals when they stop by.
“We’ve got a farmer here,” said Stafford noting the role that the younger Hutchesons play in developing other farmers and bringing in new technologies to the business.
“Horticulture is a big part of the local industry…they are going to take us to the next level,” added an enthusiastic Stafford.
Steve Walker, who represents the East Fairfax District on the county board of supervisors, was there. I felt his presence had more to do with knowing this family and the beauty of their homegrown plants than in an official capacity. He was energized and eager to share firsthand knowledge about the quality of what you will find there and more importantly the quality of the folks who are behind the garden center’s success.
Del. Nick Freitas, who represents the 30th District, stopped by and ended up in a conversation with Cori about homeschooling – something that he believes in and takes an active role in supporting.
Mayor Mike Olinger was there, again, brimming with good cheer and acknowledging what a wonderful place Windmill Heights is.
Meghan Taylor, who sits on town council, ended up purchasing a jade plant. Okay, I ended up with one as well. It is now sitting on my desk. Absolutely stunning and coming along with good advice that hopefully I won’t do it in. They are a succulent after all and don’t need to be drowned in water.
Susan Keller was there. The Friends of the Library will be sponsoring their annual pansy and plant sale soon and Windmill Heights will be providing the product.
The Chamber’s Sophie Hudson, Sandy Boone and Martha Sanford are always bubbly at these events, thanking folks for coming as they spread their own brand of good cheer.
Aside from all the accolades and well wishes which are always welcome there is more that happens when the community gathers to honor one of its own.
There is a sincere warmth and outpouring of love that, for me, mirrored the affection that was given to that young infant as he was cradled in his mother’s arms. That kind of comfort and security that comes from the knowledge that you are on a path with a heart and that makes it easy to follow.
When asked how he felt about owning this business for the past five years, it didn’t take Paul long to respond. “I enjoy it very much…I’m making a living doing what I love to do.”
And that he is.
The business is literally growing with expansion into more perennials, tropicals and a larger selection of annuals. If you are new to the county and haven’t discovered them, check out their gardens. If you are a longtime customer, congratulate them. And if you want to bask in the beauty of the earth’s bounty, stop by for a tour. You won’t be disappointed.
Windmill Heights Garden Center is located at 1901 Broad Street in Culpeper. You can reach them at 540-825-8654.