By Kathy Johnson
A springtime trip over Afton mountain on Route 250 brings mental if not verbal “oohs and ahhs” as thousands of daffodils cover the ground, their nodding faces tilted toward the sun. Where did they come from?
It all started back in 1929 when Edgar McRoy Quillen moved to the area and began selling peach trees. His two sons, Max, now 85, and younger brother Ray, are the patriarchs at Waynesboro Nurseries.
Seated in a conference room at the nursery in Lyndhurst, Max took great delight in telling everyone in the building that a real estate lady is interviewing him. His business card reads Max Quillen, Chief Agitator—and he means it.
Titus Nursery was the name of the original nursery, out of Nebraska. “My dad came down and started working for Titus Nursery and their main income was off of selling southern fruit trees,” says Ray. “He would walk up and down the valley and sell the fruit trees.” They showed off an old catalog from Titus and then some of the first catalogs their dad produced for Waynesboro. Even the early one from Titus is in color and they are amazed at how good everything looked.
“In 1929 the nursery in Waynesboro was owned by Titus. Then in 1934 they started as Waynesboro Nursery. It was my Dad and John Darnell” that originally purchased the nursery. Waynesboro Nursery is still at the original site, and includes about 2,000 acres. “650 along the river here,” said Max. They also raise cattle on some of the acreage. “We’ve got 800 right now, but we will have 1800.”
“Father put me to work when I was about five years old,” said Ray, “working on the catalogs. The nursery put out a catalog and we’d go down after school and stuff catalogs. Then probably working down here at the main nursery when I was about seven years old.” Max agreed, “I started when I was about five years old. He paid me five cents an hour.”
As they got older the work got harder. “They put us out in the field,” says Ray. “I had a little wagon I pulled along for the people work- ing in the field. I hauled water to them. That was when I was around seven. I made 10 cents an hour and got paid about once every three months.
“We had fields of peach seedlings. They had rows that ran for about a quarter of a mile to a half a mile down there and they’d have two to three thousand trees in a row—and you’d be out there all day long. You’d take a little bud out and stick it in there [grafting on to the rootstock]. We had over a hundred thousand peach trees, and then about a hundred thousand apple trees.”
These trees were sold by the sales- men who would call at orchards. Ray estimated that there were probably 100 salesmen, working on a commission basis. They sold in the Crozet area. “We were growing those fruit trees up until 20 years ago,” Ray said. So many of the trees that still grow in our area were provided by their nursery.
“You don’t see many new orchards around. Our market died, so we had to make a living on ornamentals,” says Ray. The plants sold at the Boxwood Garden Shop in Afton also came from the nursery.
“We used to plant peach seeds,” added Max, “from the cannery. We’d get a truckload of peach seeds from the cannery and bring them here and we’d dry them on top of the packinghouse and then plant them. We’d plant out—oh, a 100,000 seeds and they would make 100,000 seedlings. And that’d be just peaches. And then the apples— we’d get the seedlings about that long (gesturing maybe a foot or so with his hands) from the west coast and we’d plant the little sticks in the ground just like that.”
“Two years, three years later,” said Ray, “you’d sell them. So we were always growing in front of our market. Basically, now the whole area is a supply of labor to the Charlottesville area and our whole deal over here is to be mainly a service unit for Charlottesville.”
The current site in Lyndhurst is only wholesale and landscaping. They no longer do retail or catalog sales. Landscape contractors, cities, and other nurseries purchase from Waynesboro Nursery and Landscaping. Waynesboro Garden Center in Waynesboro is a retail shop owned by first cousins of the Quillens.
Current catalogs go to Virginia and surrounding states and up and down the eastern seaboard. Ray says they originally had 35 to 40 people working the nursery when they first got started, but Max reminds him, “in the summer it might be as many as 80.” They were all local, no migrant workers then. Now, “We are strongly tied to the building industry,” said Ray. “We do hardscaping—walls and such (in addition to the nursery plants).”
But back in 1929, not long after their father moved to the area, they purchased the original Boxwood Gardens located on the old Turnpike Road coming up the mountain from the Crozet area. There were 17 acres and Ray and Max still have the original deed. “They paid $2,100 back in 1929,” Ray says. The old photos show a Nelson County sign nearly in front of the building, which is now a private residence with many of the original plantings still in and around the building. The typography has changed but the building still looks the same.
After Route 250 was built, the Quillen family moved the garden center up to a new location on the highway and that’s where the daffo- dils remain. The family and local contractors did all the stonework in the original Boxwood Gardens and then at the shop, including building the shop itself.
The Boxwood Garden Shop was built around 1945. “They bought the piece of land before that and they built the foundation and then the war came along,” said Ray. Ray and his wife lived in the white house at the Boxwood Garden Shop when they first got married. There was an apartment over the shop and they had that rented for a time.
“We had people on bus tours and people came in there every week- end. That place was really crowded,” Ray said. “We were on the agenda of a lot of these tours.”
The shop had a greenhouse, gift shop and a garden center with a gas station. “It was everything,” said Ray. “We had this whole hillside—it must have had tens of thousands of daffodils and tulips there.” The tulips may be gone, but the daffodils linger on.
Ray and his wife moved to Waynesboro in the 1960s and around 1963 the Boxwood Garden Shop was sold to Pete and Kathy Lang, current owners of the property. After they purchased the garden shop they operated it as a restaurant and later as a gift shop.