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Sandy’s Plants, where Perennials Come From

Have you ever noticed a “Sandy’s Plants” label on one of your new perennials? Well, meet grower Sandy McDougle and her wholesale-retail growing facility on 35 acres just east of Richmond, VA. If you’re in the area it’s definitely worth a stop – not just for the opportunity to buy some rare finds but to marvel at the extensive and well-labeled display gardens. Sandy welcomes groups and is happy to give them a tour through her gardens if they arrange it ahead of time.

Why, here’s Sandy showing off the sun-tolerant Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ with Blue Fescue and assorted groundcovers.

Next, the dramatic Arundo donax ‘Peppermint Stick’ with daylilies, cannas and arborvitaes in the background.

Below, hellebores and ferns over a bed of Acorus look fabulous.

More hellebores and their shade-garden companions.

Back in the sun, Sandy’s “Fairy Garden” is fun, and demonstrates some of her favorite Stepables-brand creeping perennials.  Sandy’s the sole grower of Stepables east of the Mississippi River.

Sandy’s Back Story

But enough about plants – how about the woman who’s been supplying them for decades now? I love this story because it emerged organically, so to speak – not planned or inherited from the family.

It all started when, as a young mother and school teacher, she planted a whole lot of creeping phlox in her front yard along the road, and the owner of a nearby garden center asked if he could buy them from her – for a whopping 50 cents each (this was 30 years ago, mind you). She happily agreed – this was found money! The next step toward becoming a big-time grower was her visit to Viette’s Nursery in Central Virginia, where she spent $167 on 2 boxes of plants and watched her husband balk at the extravagance. But when she discovered that her new hostas could be divided into five smaller ones she caught “propagation fever” in a big way, which not only pleased the husband but also allowed her to feed her plant addiction as never before.

These days, Sandy’s Plants is quite a family operation.  Ten years ago Sandy’s then-26-year-old daughter, with a horticulture degree under her belt, took over the management of the business, leaving Sandy to do what she enjoys most – trialing plants, speaking to visitors about perennials and their care, generally spreading the word. Sandy’s tech-savvy son-in-law handles the excellent website and other duties that I neglected to write down (as we chatted over burgers). Sandy’s other offspring went a decidedly different route – into law and now politics. He serves in the Virginia Senate.

by Susan Harris

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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