Tinkering in the garden in the springtime is one of Mike Whitfield’s favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors. As vice chairman and acting chairman of the Williamsburg Botanical Garden at Freedom Park, Whitfield, a VCE James City/Williamsburg Master Gardener, knows his way around flowers and plants.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a gardener?
I grew up in a gardening family. We always had a vegetable garden, and flowers and other plants. My grandfather had a separate lot where he rotated crops and experimented with different varieties. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve always had some type of garden, or I grew herbs when I didn’t have much space. Now, I concentrate on native plants for pollinators. I enjoy gardening because I like being outside and watching plants grow. Sometimes, though, they don’t, and I like to try to figure out why.
What do you do to prepare for spring gardening at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden?
First, I think about what is working well and what needs improvement. We have many different areas in the garden maintained by different people, including Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, horticulturists, native plant experts and other volunteers. Each group does their own assessments. In general, there is pruning, cutting back plants, mulching and adding compost to beds that all needs to be done. Also, working at needed infrastructure improvements such as drainage. We start when the weather allows beginning in January.
What are your best gardening tips?
Plan what you want to garden. Also remember, you want the right plant for the right place. Beginners shouldn’t be afraid to try. Find gardens you like and learn how to create a similar garden, if you have a similar environment.
What are some of your favorite flowers?
I like the parade of plants that bloom all year starting with bulbs such as daffodils, and then spring bloomers such as sundrops and Virginia bluebells. Then, into summer, there are zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, and sunflowers, and finally the fall blooming plants such as asters.
Where is your favorite place to be outdoors in the springtime?
I just love being outdoors, whether it’s in my backyard, hiking in the woods or working in the garden. Williamsburg Botanical Garden is unique. It has different and varied sections that range from a meadow to a formal English garden. I enjoy the variety and diversity of the garden as a whole.