You won’t find Jane Stewart and Neil Burkhardt wistful about retiring after 15 years with McComb Gardens — they’re positively jumping for joy at the freedom they’ll have not being tied to a watering schedule that’s 365 days a year.
The now 70-year-olds, a couple since 1969, say it’s “an old age thing.” They first moved to Seattle in 1972 for graduate school, and Jane became the director of a research center and Neil became a merchant seaman.
“I made a career change in 1996 and went to school for horticulture,” Neil said. “I knew of a nursery for sale and Jane said, ‘Let’s buy it.’ — three words that changed our lives. That was in November 1998. Then it wasn’t much of a nursery. There were only a few trees, shrubs and perennials. We developed a display garden with unusual plants.”
“We had lots of ideas,” Jane recalled. “We wanted the nursery to be a center for horticulture and we wanted to provide education for us, our staff and the public. It just sort of evolved.”
Neil explained that they established an educational series with world renown horticultural designers. “We believe we raised the level of ornamental horticulture in the valley,” he said.
“We learned a lot from our customers in what they knew and what they wanted,” Jane said. “We put in rare and unusual pieces of trees, shrubs and perennials just for fun …”
“… Because that’s what creates a better gardener by getting them interested in more unusual plants,” Neil added. “It’s been fun for us to watch people who knew nothing about gardening become serious gardeners.”
The many display gardens and the mini-forest of mixed trees planted over the years gave customers an idea of what the plants would look like in their own gardens throughout the seasons and Jane and Neil always welcomed customers’ questions.
“We’ve done so much with the gardens and were the first business in Sequim to use solar panels on our store,” Neil said. “We’re a green nursery and we don’t sell or use chemicals. And we’ve been the only one recycling nursery pots for years.”
“It’s a stewardship,” Jane said.
The first order of business is to liquidate the plants and hard goods. They plan to put the nursery up for sale in April but Neil is open to talking to potential buyers before that. They say they’re in good health and don’t have any responsibilities.
“It’s been 15 years so we’re kind of tired,” Neil admitted. Jane will do more hiking, yoga, bird watching and reading. “We might garden! We haven’t been able to garden in years,” she said.
The best part they say are the customers and other experts in the horticultural industry.
“Our customers have become our friends,” Neil said. To them, Neil said, “Drop by and say hello — we’ll be around.”