Helping to roll out Virginia Tech’s ‘welcome mat’

Susie and Mike Hildebrand

Susie and Mike Hildebrand

By Amy Loeffler

Tim Bell plucked weeds from hydrangea beds at the Hahn Horticulture Garden, where blooms of the flowers dotted a sea of green with patches of lavender and rose. But for Bell, this was more than just a moment in a gorgeous garden.

“Working in the garden has broadened my idea of what the green industry has to offer,” said the 21-year-old environmental horticulture major from Riner, Virginia.

Bell, who was chosen as a Michael and Susie Hildebrand Hahn Horticulture Garden intern, said being able to work in the garden full time has been an invaluable practical complement to his classroom work. It has made him aware of the importance of aesthetics — not only in landscaping, but also in other aspects of the green industry, such as fruit and vegetable production and agritourism.

“In agritourism, the landscape can be as important as the crops themselves if you’re trying to attract people to your property,” said Bell. “That’s valuable knowledge I gained from this internship.”

Bell, who visited the Hildebrands and their business, James River Nurseries, saw how landscaping integrated various plant varieties at homes and commercial establishments. During his internship, he was also able to implement what he gleaned from those site visits.

“I learned how to install flower beds, and that gave me an idea of how to lay things out and plan what looks good together,” he said.

Mike Hildebrand (horticulture ‘74) started his business in 1983 with a couple of employees and two trucks. Today James River Nurseries sits on 200 acres in Ashland, Virginia, and is a testament to Hildebrand’s success and to the bond he and his wife, Susie, have with the Hokie Nation.

Hildebrand sees his relationship with Virginia Tech as symbiotic. He has continued to rely on training from the university and also takes on interns in his business.

“The industry is leading us to a place where we need people who are trained and educated in our field,” Mike Hildebrand said. “The Virginia Tech horticulture department and Virginia Cooperative Extension have helped us keep abreast of what’s happening in the green industry in our state.”

The Hildebrands’ gift gives students like Bell the opportunity for a paid internship at the Hahn Horticulture Garden and is in keeping with their history of generosity to agriculture programs at Virginia Tech. The Hildebrands are active volunteers for the horticulture department and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and they also served on the college’s steering committee during the university’s most recent fundraising campaign. They are members of the Ut Prosim Society, composed of the university’s most generous donors. With their current-use gift to establish a garden internship, they also became members of the university’s 1872 Society of alumni and friends who make leadership annual gifts.

“The Hahn Garden is the welcome mat to Virginia Tech, and we like the way it has grown over the years,” Mike Hildebrand said.