Horton’s draws winter-weary customers

Becky Stotler, a manager at Horton's Nursery in Winchester, waters a group of geraniums inside their greenhouse south of Winchester recently. These plants will be blooming in a couple weeks, giving homeowners a hearty dose of color in their yards. Rich Cooley/Daily

As the Winchester area suffered through record low temperatures and some late heavy snows this winter, customers went to Horton’s Nursery to get a humid reminder of what spring will bring.

“They were just doing their homework,” said Becky Stotler, one of the three co-managers of the Independent Garden Center and Nursery near Winchester, just off Route 522 near the Walmart Supercenter.

“When there is some sunshine during January and February people like to come in and see something green,” she said. “They say it helps them keep their sanity.”

This past week’s warmer weather has spawned an uptick in visitors as they explore colorful native flowers to plant in the next few weeks, like yellow and pink yarrow or Columbine’s purple, pinks and reds — both easy to maintain perennials attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

“Columbine became popular after the school shootings in Colorado,” said Stotler.

Currently, the nursery has experienced a resurgence in the purchase of geraniums, those easily grown pink, white and purple flowers that are considered the gardener’s favorite and one of the most popular to survive sudden drops in spring or fall temperatures.

“Fairy gardens are also becoming popular,” said Stotler, who has conducted classes in horticulture for children in schools and adults in assisted living facilities.

“People in condos and apartments want something green to take care of,” she said. Figurines and small statuary can be configured with small ponds or rivers to make a compelling conversation piece, she noted.

In addition to its plethora of flowers native to the area, the nursery sells shrubs, seeds (including vegetable seeds), soils, trees, outdoor furniture, gardening tools, statuary small and large, and offers landscaping and landscaping services with clients for whom they build gardens every spring.

Vines have become popular, paralleling the state’s increasing prominence in winemaking, said Stotler.

“Clematis and Silverlace are native flowering vines that attract butterflies and hummingbirds,” she said, while trumpet, wisteria and grape vines are also in vogue.

More people are planting grape vines so the kids can see them grow and then eat the grapes as a hands-on learning experience, she said.

The vegetable business booms in the warmer months with fast growing green beans and cucumbers (fastest).

“Tomatoes require patience,” said Stotler, and cold crops, which can be planted in early spring and often reproduce in the fall include lettuce, cabbage, swiss chard and broccoli.

“When the economy is bad, vegetables become more popular,” said Stotler.

There is some irony in their nursery’s proximity to the nationwide Walmart chain since her father helped set up tropical counters in Garden Centers for K-Mart and used his flora contacts to start Horton’s Nursery in his garage 38 years ago.

Eventually, Jim Horton opened his nursery on Route 11 and after he died, Stotler, her husband, Mike, and her sister, Rhonda Bradford took over managing the nursery for their mother Nancy Horton. They moved it to the current location, sometimes hard to see since there is no large highway signage like Walmart’s.

While the trio have been in the nursery business for decades, “There is still a lot we don’t know,” said Stotler. “There is so much in this field, you can’t know it all. When we don’t know, we say so. We would rather lose the sale than say the wrong thing.”

Summers can be brutal in Shenandoah, Frederick and Warren counties and Stotler said the main reason plants die in this area is a lack of water, especially in July and August.

“Plants need water and we may get a downpour but people forget foliage can act as an umbrella. What is needed is a slow drenching rain and when that doesn’t happen, people need to water their plants,” Stotler said. “Weather is always tricky.”

And while watering their own vast array of plants seems like it would be a costly expense, Stotler said heating bills are their most expensive cost.

“When it snows we have to heat our greenhouse even when there is nothing in it so that the snow doesn’t collapse the roof, and we need to keep the temperature up on colder days to protect plants,” she said.

While people may tell Stotler it is nice to work in a family business she is quick to say, “It just owns us. I have been doing this [with my father] since I was 12.”