By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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For Neal Burkhardt and Jane Stewart, however, the past 15 years of tending to plants and monitoring watering at their McComb Gardens plant nursery at 751 McComb Road has left them little time to take it easy.
“We came out here to go birding on [the Dungeness] Spit in 1998, and we ended up buying this place,” Burkhardt said. “I haven't birded the Spit yet.”
Each now 70 years old, the couple, together for 45 years, have decided to give up the plant business and explore their home.
Appropriately, the green thumbs are closing their lush nursery Monday, St. Patrick's Day.
“We really haven't had time to tend to our own garden all this time,” Stewart said. “Now we will.”
Added Burkhardt: “I haven't even been up to Hurricane Ridge yet.”
When the two took over the infant nursery, it was populated with pioneer-era fruit trees and mostly covered in grass.
They turned it into 2.5 acres of display gardens filled with thousands of species of plants, trees and flowers.
After a 30-year career as a merchant seaman, Burkhardt went back to school in 1996 to study horticulture, eventually earning horticulture certification from the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association.
“That much time at sea gives an appreciation of land,” he said.
Stewart worked for years as the director of a research center for the Seattle law firm Perkins Coie.
“It was an incredible place to be,” she said. “I was surrounded by some incredibly smart people.”
They tapped into a different pool of brilliance while expanding McComb Gardens, enlisting holders of doctorates in horticulture to design demonstration gardens and lead gardening seminars.
The two turned the gardens into a popular destination spot. Concerts and weddings filled the place during summers.
“You keep trying to do more with the place, to add features to it,” Burkhardt said.
“Then you look up, and 15 years have gone by, and you realize you haven't really had a day off.”
They have liquidated the nursery's stock over the past year and will put the nursery up for sale next month.
They said they'll miss their roster of loyal customers, but most of all, they will miss their dedicated staff, all of whom have also earned state horticulture certification.
Employees Mary Hicks and Cindy Pemberton have put in a combined 23 years at McComb Gardens.
“They've been here a long time, and it's been wonderfully fun to work with them,” Burkhardt said.
“I can't believe there's going to be a morning we don't see them.”
What little stock remains has been discounted over the past month, with 40 percent sales marked down to 60 percent off as of Saturday.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at email@example.com.