Merrifield Garden Center is the story of two families and a dream.
It began when Bob Warhurst, a hard-working young man with a can-do attitude from humble beginnings in rural Alabama, was ahead of his time, realizing the need to service the growing population of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area with quality plants.
Bob told Buddy Williams, his neighbor and friend in Vienna, Virginia, about his plan to start a garden center and nursery – and asked if he wanted to join him. Buddy, who enjoyed plants and working outside as much as Bob, quickly agreed.
“I think drive comes from believing you can do something,” says Bob, who left his rural Alabama home, where work was scarce, as a teenager to move to Northern Virginia to make his way in life.
The great adventure for Bob and his wife, Billie Jean, and Buddy and his wife, Doris, was about to begin. Soon after their daring decision, Bob, who owned a trash collection business and an antique and second-hand store called “The Trading Post,” and Buddy, a fireman in Fairfax County, hopped in a pick-up truck and drove around Northern Virginia to stake out locations to build their dream nursery. They spotted undeveloped land at the corner of Lee Highway and Gallows Road, just outside the Capital Beltway in Merrifield.
Like Columbus coming ashore in the Americas, Bob declared, “This is it!”
One of Bob’s greatest strengths is to see beyond the present moment and visualize what might be possible. He saw huge potential in the weedy, junk-strewn lot filled with scraggly brush and abandoned, rusty cars that was next to an Exxon gas station at a very busy intersection.
Merrifield Garden Center opened on April 9, 1971 with a quaint red barn, a small store and less than an acre of plants. It started incredibly small, but with the highest of standards. From the very beginning, Bob and Buddy emphasized outstanding customer service, exceptional quality and superior selection. These old-school principles are still paramount today. But they’re combined with 21st century business practices.
Now, 44 years later, Merrifield Garden Center has expanded to become one of the largest and most complete nurseries in the country with three Northern Virginia stores – the original site in Merrifield, a second in Fairfax and a third in Gainesville.
We’re proud to have been recognized with numerous awards and accolades over the years. In addition to serving the needs of home gardeners, we provide beautiful plants and horticultural expertise to many local, state and federal government agencies as well as schools, commercial properties, golf courses and park authorities.
As we’ve grown, we have never forgotten our modest roots and we’re more passionate than ever to be in the beauty business and help our customers achieve their dreams. After all these years, our founders are still exchanging handshakes and hugs with customers, answering gardening questions, stocking shelves and handling any job that needs to be done.
When you visit Merrifield Garden Center, there’s a good chance the person assisting you is either a Warhurst or a Williams. Family members grow up learning plants and the importance of taking care of customers. Later, they branch off into Merrifield careers that suit their individual talents and interests.
“An important part of the Merrifield culture is the sense of family – friendly and down-to-earth,” Bob says. “We think our unique family dynamics translates into better customer service.”
Sadly, Bob Warhurst passed away on April 29, 2015 and Buddy Williams on July 20, 2011. Both after long illnesses. Bob’s wife Billie Jean and their five children – Debbie, Rob, Larry, Donny and Kevin – and several of their spouses work at the nursery. So do six of Bob and Billie Jean’s 11 grandchildren. Buddy’s wife, Doris, and their three children – Wanda, Hal and Kim – and one of their three grandchildren work at the garden center. And many of Bob and Buddy’s extended families also work here.
For a great read about Merrifield Co-Founder Bob Warhurst and how the dream of Merrifield Garden Center became a reality, we invite you to read the book The American Dream: The Rags to Roses Story of Bob Warhurst and the Founding of Merrifield Garden Center, which is available in our stores and on this website.
Click here to purchase the The American Dream: The Rags to Roses Story of Bob Warhurst and the Founding of Merrifield Garden Center.