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October 14, 2008

Green Thumb

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By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business

We pat ourselves on the back for not letting houseplants die with the first frost, but there are others for whom green is a lifestyle. Loudoun County native Airynee May, Head Gardener for The Goodstone Inn & Estate in Middleburg, spent her childhood up to her elbows in perennials, helping her mother, garden designer Andrea Watson, with luxury garden design and restoration projects throughout Virginia. May ran her mother's landscape crew for eight years before founding Garden Guidance, a company providing consultation and educational programming on organic gardening in 2004. She joined Goodstone in January '08.


May decided to make a move last winter when, at the close of the season, she grew frustrated with not being able to see projects through. "I wanted something long term." Goodstone gave May the opportunity, putting her in charge of everything with roots on the 265-acre estate. "We pride ourselves on farm-to-table cuisine. Whatever we can grow on-site we take straight to the restaurant," says May, who maintains large herb and vegetable gardens on the property. Ready to bring the estate's horticulture to another level, she works with what she has on the property first as it "gives the grounds an instant maturity." Inspired by the work of her family—sister, Morgan Walker, owns Gardens of Delight nursery—May also produces all flower arrangements straight from the farm.


May walks the three-and-a-half mile hiking trail to find inspiration and also counts on Washington-area gardens. "Dumbarton Oaks is a favorite, as is Oatlands Plantation. Also Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. As vision goes, my heart lies there. Those designers planned for 50 years ahead. That's often forgotten in today's designing." May's plans include working to reestablish the property's natives and edibles and hoping to grow grains onsite. Still to come this season: With her small crew, she'll plant 5000 daffodils in the next couple of weeks and all cold crops for the vegetable garden.


Not blessed (or cursed) with 265 acres to maintain? Here are some of May's tips for your own plot of land:

  • Now is the perfect time to do anything that will make your spring easier. Divide and transplant. Split up clumps of plants; they are not as fragile as you think. Move things around.

  • Invest in small evergreen shrubs, so you can have some winter interest.

  • It's a great time to plant perennials as they take two to three months to set roots.

  • Once Thanksgiving comes, it's time to do your fall cleaning. You can leave anything the birds can eat or things with ornamental interest. Everything else, you should cut back to the ground and add a final layer of mulch. Winter mulching is often skipped, but it's very important for soil nutrition and substance. It's also the winter blanket.  With mulch, come spring, you can just wait for your show, rather than having to work for it.
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