The trunk is loaded with perennials and a few native plants tucked in. The local nurseries are eager to take the plants they’re familiar with, but have some hesitation trying the ones they haven't had experience with.
Denise Greene, owner of Sassafras Farm in Hayes, Virginia, says that most people have no idea about the plants native to the area and have no interest in them.
“It wasn’t until customers started getting excited about the natives that [nurseries] even considered taking them. I had to work hard to get them interested!”
The farm, home of many Virginia native plants, just happened over time. It was never really planned.
The name “Sassafras” derived from her husband and daughter’s close relationship.
“He used to walk her down to the end of the drive to wait for the bus. He taught her every plant he knew. The sassafras was the one she recognized the most. That was always going to be the name of this farm.”
With her degree in horticulture, there was only so much she was able to do. For a while, she was the only woman working at a local garden in Williamsburg. She was put in the fields working, but people would complain to management.
“In those days it was unheard of for a woman to be working out in the hot sun. I guess people had issue with that so I got moved to the greenhouses.”
It wasn’t long before more women came to work there, so the pressure was off. At that point, Denise had been offered a job at the Hermitage Museum in Norfolk.
Her passion for landscape design grew with every passing year, but she never had the time to dedicate to designing full-time while she was taking care of the kids. Now that her husband, Wesley, is retired from working in Colonial Williamsburg, she finally has time to do what she loves most.
Denise’s preference for native plants also grew over time. Now she works almost exclusively with them in her designs. Her luscious, but low-maintenance compositions have been included at Westmoreland State Park, Busch Gardens, and NASA Langley Research Center, among others.
“Of course, I always look for what the client wants, but sometimes I’m able to convince them to do more natives.”
For more information about Sassafras and about Denise, visit her website here.