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This article originally appeared in Mount Vernon magazine, published three times a year by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.
Meet Mount Vernon’s greenhouse manager,
Melanie Welles Creamer.
Virginia winters can be harsh, and the climate forces plants to fall dormant during these months. Greenhouses have enabled plants to thrive year-round at Mount Vernon since the late 1780s, when Washington built the Greenhouse overlooking the Upper Garden that visitors still see today. This tradition of year-round cultivation continues, thanks to a team led by Greenhouse Manager Melanie Welles Creamer.
Born and raised on her family’s Wisconsin farm, Melanie has always had a green thumb. “It’s just like breathing to me.” As she grew up, her passion for plants grew with her, and she participated in every horticulture club and group she could find. During a high school visit to Washington, D.C., with the National Future Farmers of America Organization, Melanie came to Mount Vernon for the first time.
“I remember coming here because, being from Wisconsin, you don’t have anything like southern magnolia trees there,” she recalls. “I still remember walking down the north lane and thinking, ‘These trees are the most beautiful trees I’ve ever seen....’ I was totally enamored.”
Horticulture was Melanie’s obvious choice of study in college at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, and she continued on to graduate school at Colorado State University. While studying abroad in the Netherlands, Melanie confirmed her love for greenhouses. After working in greenhouses across the United States upon graduation, she came across an opening for her dream job at Mount Vernon—a position she has held, and a role that she has expanded upon, since 2011.
Whereas most people associate gardening with the spring and summer months, it’s a year-round venture for Melanie and her staff. In addition to producing 20,000 plants a year, the greenhouse team provides support for estate events, such as the wine festivals, Colonial Days, and Christmas at Mount Vernon. Production planning for the following year begins in October. During the winter, staff collect, clean, and store seeds that will be planted or sold in the spring.
Melanie Welles Creamer collects seeds grown at Mount Vernon. During the winter, staff collect, clean, and store seeds that will be planted or sold in the spring. Photo by Maria Bryk. (MVLA)
Visitors see the fruits of this behind-the-scenes labor at the annual Historic Plant and Garden Sale. Melanie has played a vital role in turning this event into a stronger educational offering.
“It’s our biggest outreach project,” Melanie explains. “We sell plants that are known to have been planted on the estate during George Washington’s time. These seeds and plants include trees and shrubs that are documented in his diaries, and that his guests referenced in their writings about visits to Mount Vernon, as well as fruits, herbs, and vegetables historians could infer were grown at Mount Vernon.
“People can take a piece of Mount Vernon with them,” Melanie concludes. “The plant as well as their visit become stories they share.”
Join Greenhouse Manager Melanie Welles Creamer for a special workshop on how to grow vegetables and enhance the beauty of your deck or patio with plants.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Mount Vernon magazine. Subscribe to the magazine by becoming a member today.Learn More