Celebrating 50 years in the horti-culture business, Ken Matthews Garden Center (KMGC) has been at its York County location since 1984. Owner Ken Matthews started his business in his backyard in the Wythe area of Hampton “with a truck, a wheelbarrow and a dog,” says Matthews. He moved to a garage building but soon needed to expand. “It became clear to me that York County was the place to be,” he says. Matthews’ wife Sandy recommends reading the humorous account of her husband’s early years on the business’s website.
Matthews is now semi-retired and does not come to the garden center every day. Co-owner Heather Klose and Sandy continue with the same quality service. Plants are still the central business, along with design work and a garden-themed gift shop. The garden center has the most complete pond garden supplies and expertise in the area.
A self-described “outdoorsy guy,” Matthews accepted a horticulture scholarship to pay for college. However, he was drafted and served in Vietnam. This was followed by three years in South Korea. “I was 27 when I got out of the Army,” he says, “and I didn’t want to go back to school.” So he began his long career and association with plants.
Sandy and Ken have been married for 49 years. Sandy manages and oversees the accounting, gift shop and marketing efforts. With Matthews “in the back seat” and the children grown, Sandy says she is “busier than ever.” Their three grown children — two girls and a boy — have graduated from college and have diverse professional careers. Each of them helped in the business while growing up but are no longer involved.
Klose is chief operating officer. She helps customers, designs gardens, schedules projects and takes care of the paperwork. “I began my ‘outdoor career’ mowing lawns,” she says with a smile. She mowed in high school and all through college. Like Matthews, she has always been “outdoorsy.”
Klose has seen the landscaping and horticulture industry change. Customers are more likely to watch the bottom line than the best design plan. “Plants and shrubs are also available in a lot of locations: big box stores or hardware stores, for example,” she adds. “I have truly enjoyed the long-term relationships we have established. We are now helping the children of our original customers.”
Matthews notes that plants were grown in the ground when he started his business. “Now they are grown in containers,” he says.
The business has won many Best of Hampton Roads awards over the years from the Daily Press and Coastal Living magazine. In 1990, the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce named Ken Matthews Small Business Person of the Year for his contributions to the community. In August of this year, Virginia Media gave KMGC Gold Awards as Best Landscaper, Best Garden/Nursery Center and Best Place to Buy a Christmas Tree. Matthews has been very involved in his community, having served on the York County Industrial Authority and working on projects including Riverwalk Landing and the Route 17 Revitalization initiative.
Matthews says he does not have a large home garden. “I have some shrubs and a few vegetables. Any more would be like being ‘at work,’” he adds with a chuckle. He has enjoyed “sleeping in” since his semi-retirement. His hobbies include woodworking and the five-string banjo. He likes scuba diving and he owns a boat.
Klose has a home garden. “I love yard work,” she says. She has six raised vegetable gardens. “And I love perennials,” she adds. As a hobby she does paintings of animals, mostly of her friends’ pets.
Customers often research plants online and want something unsuitable for this area. “We have the knowledge of what works in our microclimate,” says Matthews. “We make recommendations but people don’t always listen.” He also comments on the reality of “climate zone” changes that he has observed.
Matthews says that it is still fun and satisfying to combine all kinds of plants and make a pleasing presentation. “The world needs beauty,” says Klose. “It brings joy to the spirit. Nature and horticulture accomplish all that.”
Ken Mathews’ Fall Planting Tips
- Fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs to allow them time to create a strong root system over the winter and less work for you next year.
- To see the magical awakening of spring, plant spring flower bulbs such as jonquils in your garden and tulips in your containers now.
- Clean out your vegetable garden to gear up for delicious winter crop plantings such as lettuce, cabbage, kale, beets, cauliflower and broccoli.
- The secret for a beautiful fescue lawn is to aerate, seed and fertilize your lawn in the fall. Your feet will love you next spring and summer.
- Divide perennials and bulbs and get twice as many to jazz up other areas of your garden.
- Fertilize acid loving plants (azaleas, etc.) with Holly Tone.
- Refresh annuals in your containers and garden beds with pansies, snapdragons, kale and cabbages for color all fall and winter.
- Check plants for diseases, but give special attention to evergreens by spraying them with All Season Oil.
- Mulch in the fall to provide a layer of winter protection for plants and to help deter spring weeds. Plus it just looks great!
TO THE POINT:
Ken Matthews Garden Center
Address: 4921 George Washington Memorial Hwy. (Rte. 17), Yorktown VA 23692
Owners: Ken Matthews and Heather Klose