30 years later, everything is still coming up roses

September 27, 1994|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

Dotty Metzler remembers when the closest grocery store was in Ellicott City, Route 29 was just a two-lane road and Columbia addresses still were considered part of Ellicott City.

"Our daughter, who's 28 now, wasn't even a year old when they built that first Giant in [the Village of] Wilde Lake," Mrs. Metzler recalled. "We've grown up right along with Columbia."

Thirty years ago, Metzler's Nursery and Garden Center was a small, husband-and-wife landscaping service on Jerrys Drive.

Today, it's a Columbia landmark, a 7-acre landscaping service, garden supply and florist with 20 full-time and 35 seasonal employees on Owen Brown Road.

Mrs. Metzler, 50, and her husband, John, 57, reminisced this past weekend as they celebrated the business' 30th anniversary. But they didn't much time to tell stories, with more than 2,500 people stopping by to enjoy hayrides and food -- not to mention 1964 prices on many products.

"Not in my fondest dreams did I expect all of this," Mr. Metzler said, proudly holding out his arms as he stood near a display containing only a fraction of three decades' worth of photographs, letters of appreciation and awards. "And not in my fondest expectations did I think that Columbia would be all that it is."

In 1964, while he was working in Beltsville for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mr. Metzler learned that a "Little Baltimore" was going to be built in Howard County. The birth of Metzler's Garden Center -- as well as the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Metzler -- occurred four years before the creation of Columbia.

"My dream since I was 11 or 12 was always to own a garden center, and I saw this as a chance to do it," Mr. Metzler said.

It was just a couple of sheds back then, with the bulk of the business in lawn care and mowing. The center moved to its current site seven years later.

Turning to an aerial photograph, Mrs. Metzler recounted the center's growth, pointing to the expanded greenhouse and other buildings that have been built over the years.

"This was all just a little farm back when we bought it. Now look at it. It's wonderful," Mrs. Metzler said.

Larry M. Carpenter, who first used the Metzlers for landscaping when he and his wife, Marge, were living in Laurel 30 years ago, praised the services they have provided.

"What they have done for our house is really nice, and they keep everything in the store at a very friendly, personal level," said Mr. Carpenter, whose bushes and birch tree outside his Village of Wilde Lake town home were planted by the Metzlers. "With the way they've expanded, I wish I could have expanded as much."

The couple is quick to credit their success to the community, profusely thanking everyone who has patronized their business over the years.

But the Metzlers have worked to make their business an integral part of Columbia, sponsoring an annual fall festival and Christmas open house for the past 25 years.

There's also a club for children, with monthly activities to encourage their interest in gardening. Schoolchildren also often come through on tours to learn about things they might never see in suburban Howard County.

"We like to help involve the whole family. It's really a good way for the family to work together and stay together," Mrs. Metzler said.

The Metzlers know a thing or two about family matters. Their daughter, Katrina, 28, and son, Hans, 26, work in the business and are expected to eventually take it over. Their 5-year-old granddaughter, Lindsey, has become a helper to her grandmother.

The business has also gained a reputation within Columbia during the last five years as a place to donate clothing and nonperishable food for the homeless at Christmas. The couple makes regular trips to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore to distribute what they collect, along with sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, vegetable soup and hot chocolate.

"We even bring old bread for the birds in the park. We like to make sure that everybody gets fed when its cold," Mrs. Metzler said.

There's little doubt that the Metzlers' activities for the community have helped their business, earning them the loyal customers whose letters of praise are displayed as part of the 30th anniversary celebration.

But the Metzlers make it evident that they truly love what they are doing and were delighted with the community's reaction to this past weekend's celebration.

"It was just wonderful to see so many people out here to celebrate with us," Mr. Metzler said. "We really liked seeing so many people."

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