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Time To Move On As Demolition Comes To An End

Bignonia vines (Crossvine)
Bignonia vines (Crossvine)

Time To Move On

I went to see what was left at Behnke Nurseries today. It was all gone! I said I was not going to go, but I went anyway. I got there as that big monster machine that tore down every single structure was being loaded up. Their job was done. There is still so much more to do to get the property back to the bare ground. But as the demolition comes to an end, it is time for me to move on.

 

Was it hard to see? You bet! Did I cry? Maybe a few tears, but as I have said before, it was way past time for it to be gone. As I stood outside the fenced-in area, the man loading up the tractor-trailer asked me what this place was? What? You don’t know, I wondered? He said he was picking up the equipment. How could he not know? How long before no one remembers what stood on this ground for over 90 years? Could he not hear all the laughter and chatter of our friends as they walked through the area where so many azaleas sat? I closed my eyes and could see and smell the summer annuals in the back greenhouse. People were looking at perennials as they talked about the butterfly garden they would start this year.

Why I Keep Writing

So often I am asked why I keep this email and website going. Maybe it is because I am afraid that, like this driver, so many more people will say, What was here? They won’t know that the majority of the landscaping in the neighborhood was #bornatbehnkes

 

Like so many of you, I loved this place. I loved growing up in that brick house—so many hours of pulling our red wagon all over, gathering glass soda bottles to return for deposit money. Feeding the ducks and swans in the two ponds is a memory I will treasure forever! I could still see the little girl, transplanting thousands of begonias. There I was squeezing out the seeds of my grandfather’s Belgian Giant Tomatoes or filling bags of the special African Violet Soil. The playground with the big old slide on which we used wax paper to fly down faster and faster. Going round and round on the merry-go-round till we wobbled around.

 

As these memories went through my mind, I suddenly realized many memories are of things already gone for decades. The ponds and swans were long gone, and the special Belgian Giant Tomatoes were no longer grown. And the playground was torn down. We stopped growing our own African Violets and mixing the special soil as other companies came along making it more affordable to resell their products.

Plants Persist.

Looking around, I was startled to see some color peeking out from a magnolia tree. As I walked over to where one of our gazebos used to stand, I saw two blooming Columbines. Darn, I wish I had a trowel. Finally, something left that had not been stripped away. I looked over toward where the other gazebo stood, and was that a flash of pink? It was a clump of Pink Evening Primrose, Oenothera. The mass of rusty red Bignonia vines (Crossvine) were still there, covering the fence. Seeing the different plants still blooming for some reason reassured me that it was going to be okay. Whatever happens to this ground, I will keep writing and sharing memories with you till no one wants to read them anymore. One day my grandchildren might look at the pictures as they read some of my stories and they will know what once was here.

 

Thank you all for giving me a place to share my memories and feeling. Love always, Stephanie
Columbines
Columbines
Pink Evening Primrose, Oenothera.
Pink Evening Primrose, Oenothera.

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.

This Post Has 42 Comments

    1. Many people are speaking of plant memoirs, which I also have but my other favorite time of year was when the Christmas Shop opened each year. My favorite Christmas ornament ever came from their and when it broke I kept the pieces for my own memories. Will always miss Behnke’s! You can purchase plants elsewhere but not the same quality or care…. Thank you and your family for all of the year of beautiful gardens I had.

      1. Aww that is so nice! I loved the Christmas shop too! Since I was a little girl when my mom started it in the old African Violet house with just a few hand made things from Germany. My grandfather told her it would never take off!. When I came back to work at Behnek’s being the Christmas Shop buyer was the BEST!! What ornament was it that broke?

  1. Living in Prince George’s County my entire life – that being 69 years, I remember Behnkes forever! I really, really enjoy your newsletter!
    So many of your memories ring true about my own life; wax paper to hopefully make the slide faster and stumbling around exiting the merry-go-round! Lol
    Can only guess the number of times and the number of people who have said to me “I really miss Behnke’s”! I just nod my head voicing so do I!!

    1. I only lived in Maryland for 4 years, but during that time, a trip to Behnkes was typically the highlight of my week. I found it while traveling up 29 (if I’m remembering correctly), and remember squealing when I first saw the sign-here was a place that had been lovingly cultivated over the years. And the plants—all beautiful. I bought as much as my Silver Spring HOA would allow. Thank you for 4 years of beauty and solace. My memories remain.
      Cindy

    2. Aww thank you so much for writing. Today while loosing myself on facebook like I do, a photo of a slide popped up! (and they think FB does not know what you are thinking!) This slide reminded me so much of the one we had. It was a little larger I think but still so much fun!!

    3. I loved that sliding board. Just this morning while looking of facebook up came a picture someone shared of one almost like ours. And they say, FB does not know what you are thinking about. Thank you for taking the time to write

  2. I can’t imagine how hard it was to let the nursery go. I moved to this are 30 years ago and quickly found Behnke’s. First, for house plants in my apartment and later for annuals and perennials for my home. I love visiting and walking through the different green house and rows and rows of beautiful plants. AND, I learned so much about my garden from your staff. I’ll never forget this wonderful place. I haven’t been able to go back to the property to see what has become of it but having grown up there, I can understand the pull the property has on you. I do hope that whatever ends up there, the occasional pop of color will continue to happen. Life finds a way.

    1. That pop of color is what I love to see everywhere. And really no matter what the property ends up being, like I said, so many pops of color are all over that were #bornatbehnke’s take care 🙂

  3. Oh I pass the renants of my favorite garden center almost daily going to and from work or various stores and it still hurts. I remember going there as a young child and seeing the torn down area that used to be such a wonderful home of plants still hurts. I work some days at a park south east of Upper Marlboro. Wandering around the park helps in the woods near the river and ponds helps. Keep looking for woods to wander in!! Live well.

    1. I love to go a wandering.. A song my grandmother Rose Behnke always sang as she took us for long hikes. I think I even wrote about that somewhere. LOL I don’t think I would be able to drive by daily. I would have to find another way. My cousin lives near by and stops by. Breaks her heart too but we all knew this was going to happen. It needed to happen.

  4. I appreciate you sharing your memories with all of us. My father and uncle worked there in the late 50’s early 60’s and we lived in a house next to Behnke’s that was owned by your family. My parents and uncle immigrated from the Netherlands and your grandparents helped them get a good start in this country. We moved to Rockville when I was 3 or 4 but always returned to buy plants & bushes, and at times visited your grandparents at their house with lots and lots of azaleas. I have very fond memories and felt like part of a big family when we were there. As you said, there was always laughter and conversation.

    1. Did you live in the little brick house? I was in touch with another customer that lived there before I did but they were from Germany. If you search for Update on the Brick house you might find it. To tell the truth I always thought my uncle was the first one to live there but then a friend of Behnke’s was doing research and found the house was built around 1950 not 1957 like I thought. I know my grandparents brought over so many wonderful men to America that worked for us till they retired or moved on to other adventures. Many Dutchmen and Germans lived in our basement when I was growing up. Please, what were your parents and uncles name?

      1. It was the little brick house! And reading your memories bring back many for me. My father was James (or Jack) Vanderveldt, my uncle is Tony Vanderveldt. Uncle Tony is famous in my family for being tasked to do something in the African Violet house, misunderstanding the instructions since he didn’t speak much English yet, and plucking all the blooms off the plants. Was not a good day at Behnke’s. 🙂

          1. I will ask my mom tomorrow. Her memory is fading and if it was during the time she lived in California and New York she might not know.

          1. I’ll send you an email. I have my mom’s photos and will look for some from those days.

  5. I’ll never forget Behnkes because I had gardens of plants from there that persist at the homes we owned beginning in 1971 in Takoma Park and then in White Oak from 2000 until 2016 when I moved in with my offspring in a newly renovated home back in Takoma Park. Now I have my own long, narrow shade garden filled with plants, mostly from Behnkes, and the front yard has a thriving herb plot, 3 butterfly bushes, and a glorious purple salvia that has kept coming back for several years now—all from guess where! We plant lovely annuals from many sources now, but somehow shopping for them can’t compare with the hours we spent at Behnkes. Please keep sharing your memories and your expertise and we’ll keep cherishing our “born at Behnkes” plants.

    1. like music when you hear a certain song seeing a certain plant can take you back to when you planted it or bought it. What was going on in your life etc. I love that you have such beautiful memories of Behnkes and I bet of your family as they grew up

  6. Ah Stephanie, you express so beautifully what so many of your readers and visitors feel. I am sure of this. The past year has seen what used to be a really lovely big property – a gentleman’s farm and home – fall to the bulldozers, and we still deal daily with the noise and ugliness of a “continuing care” monstrosity. I laugh bitterly because the marketing is about aging in place, yet nobody who goes there will be familiar with this place, and calling it Beechfield is absolutely a crime. There were lovely Maples, and Oak, and other smaller trees there but NO Beech trees. There were sometimes horses, sometimes cattle, and once or twice, even a field full of sports cars. Now there will be garbage trucks and emergency vehicles and who knows what else.

    But enough of all that mess. I remember Behnkes and I remember that my late Mom loved it, too. A co-worker of hers insisted on pronouncing the name “be henkys” for some odd reason. I remember finding that funny! Mom and I used to shop there together, often, and there are garden shops around now, yes, but none will be quite an institution like Behnke’s to me. Thank you SO much for all of your memories shared, and it’s sad that the man picking up the equipment never will know what we all who do remember, have to treasure!!

    Still, life will go on and we have more adventures to have and to share, eh? 🙂

    1. I understand how you feel seeing something new replace what once was. However, I do know that many age in place homes are really trying to help their residents by making their doors going into their rooms look like their own homes they had to leave. I only hope if and when the time comes that we will need to find my mother a place it will have things that she will remember. Of course for her, it might have to be the old shack she grew up in on Behnke’s . She loves seeing those photos of her home that has been gone for so long.

      I love hearing stories of how families shopped together. First mom’s bringing their kids and then as time past those same children bringing their parents.

      Yes there are many new adventures to have and to share!

  7. I live in Burtonsville now..and every gardener and garden love mentions Behnkes when we get together for any reason….or when we need help help with a plant or plants pest…..or when we see an exceptional flower…
    I am one of the many volunteers who will be working Saturday for the Sandy Spring Garden Tour….and we had a preview of the gardens…one was The Jaehnigen Garden…and it reminds me so much of your grandfather garden at the house of of route 198….
    If you do the tour I will be at the ticket counter at the Kramer garden in the HOT afternoon…we all talk about Behnkes, and I truly can not imagine not remembering and talking about the most magical garden center and the people who made it have the magic

    1. Wait! Did I miss the garden tour of Helmuts? Someone wrote to tell me about it. When is the tour? Tell me more! Helmut is such a BIG part of Behnke Nurseries history and one of the men that made it what it was.

      1. the Sandy Spring Garden Tour is this Saturday…if you google Sandy Spring Garden Tour you can get the information..the Jaehnigen garden is on the tour…but I am sure that they would love to see you …tour or no tour…and like I said ..the yard reminds me of your grandfathers garden there off of route 198…I will be working at the Kramer location in the afternoon if you decide to do the tour…stay cool and I know you will stay lovely..because you are…and thank you for all you do…

  8. I grew up in New Carrollton and my parents loved Behnke’s! I loved going there and browsing all the plants even as a kid. I guess that’s why I grew up believing there was no place like it. I think it had a lot to do with making me a gardener. Even though there are many great nurseries in the area, it has been difficult not to compare to and miss Behnke’s.
    I love the memories you’ve shared. The pictures and stories have been priceless. I don’t think any of us will ever ask you to stop. This blog has been very therapeutic for me. Yes, tears were shed the last time I was there and said good-bye and they come when I read about large machinery taking it all down and especially over lone columbines and primrose holding on. It’s as if a little piece of all of us remain – especially that of Albert & Rose.
    Thank you for all the time and effort you have put into these recollections. I do hope it has been especially therapeutic for you and your family too. Many, many thanks!

    1. It really has been good for me to write about it and well other things. I know my grandparents would be okay with what was done. They totally would have understood that time moves on. Thank you for your kind words and yes I will keep writing as long as I find something to say.

  9. I was thinking I needed a hose. A good quality one. I automatically thought I’ll just go to Behnke’s. Then I was sad.

    1. I understand. I was thinking I need another crape myrtle and then I remembered I have to go pay full price for one. No employee discount. OUCH!!!

  10. I hope you went back for the columbines! I love your blog – always so helpful. I have a ming aralia that I propagated for my mother in 1982. I told my 22 year old son that he has to keep it going after I am gone. Fortunately, he’s done 3 internships at the U.S. Botanic Garden. He finally went away to ‘sleepaway’ college this spring after graduating from community college. What did he get for his dorm room wall? A leftover wax plant in a triangular planter. Everyone comments on it!
    https://www.amazon.com/Umbra-Hanging-Planter-Geometric-Container/dp/B00S7063BU?ref_=ast_sto_dp&th=1

    1. No I have not gone back. It is over 1 hour away and I really just do not want to see it right now. Maybe when they get rid of all the benches and asphalt I will drive back down. Love that plant hanger your son has!! Thank you for sharing!

  11. Thank you so very much. I have missed Behnke’s. I see former employees training others and improving selections at other locations now. Thank you for passing along your knowledge and love of caring for nature and plants to others. The knowledge is spreading to more and more people. Behnke’s has transformed lives.

    1. I love that our former employees have found other places to share their love of plants. Once you work for Behnke’s you are officially a Behnke. So many wonderful friendships and marriages have started right there on that little piece of ground.

  12. How I treasure the Japanese camellia I bought at Behnke’s some 16 years ago. And many other plants…but it and the crepe myrtle have anchored my landscape. Thank you for everything!

  13. My husband and I raised our two children in Silver Spring, and one of my fondest memories of summers was the tomato sampling that Behnke’s ran for some years in the white house. The kids (and we) got scorecards to rate each of the varieties based on a number of criteria- boy did we deliberate about each and every one. At the end I received a little booklet of recipes and each child was given a coupon for 3 tomato plants to be pick up at the start of the next growing season. To this day both children (now adults) love all types of tomatoes and I credit Behnke’s for instilling this love!!!

  14. That is one event I never got to attend. During those days, I had my own wholesale nursery and just never seemed to be able to go. PLUS, I really disliked tomatoes. Only in the last few years have I even started to have them on a BLT. I think I might have been one of the only Behnke’s that did not like them. As a little girl, we use to have to take the old mushy Belgian Giants my grandfather developed and squish them in screens. This was how they would find the few seeds to keep for the next season. YUCK!! It was awful. Hot summer days, flies flying around while doing this well it was just awful. But I always heard how much fun everyone had at the tomato tasting events we had. I am glad you have such wonderful memories and looking back I wish I had attended at least one to be able to share about it. I feel an article coming on..

  15. The first time I visited this area was in college and my future in-laws lived across the road from the old Largo location. Already they had swans from Behnkes from when you got rid of your pond and my inlaws got your birds. (Did you have peacocks too?). Later on I learned about Behnkes. Meanwhile I moved to Beltsville and 2 of my kids later worked at Behnkes during school. Behnkes was the only place to go for all things garden! I still shed a tear or two!

    1. Hey Ginger! We have talked about those swans before. I always wondered where they went when they filled in the ponds. No we never had peacocks. Thank you for being such a big Behnke supporter!

  16. Thank you for this post. I, too, have fond memories of my 5 children coming with me to Behnkes over the years! I also pulled in to the little strip of land right in the front in early May and cried. I have not found the love, warmth and knowledge that you gave us from any other locations! Trust me I have gone to all you recommended but it just is not the same kind of love and commitment to making others feel the love of plants and the joy of teaching my little ones (now in high school and college) what service to others really means. Behnkes will always be my favorite! So please keep writing. Be well and know you and your family are loved! Behnkes forever 💗

    1. Thank you so much for writing. And for all the support you and your family gave Behnke’s. My wish is for you to keep looking and you will find a place you will enjoy. We were truly blessed to have the best staff but you know many of them are at other garden centers and I am so happy to hear from them how they are being treated. They are finding new homes and even learning (gasp) better ways of doing things. LOL .. That said, I think our customers and our staff is what made Behnke’s so special. It will always be my favorite place too but I am having so much fun exploring other garden centers and nurseries. I just never had the time before. Glad you enjoy my stories.

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