Sylvia Matlock says she loves to drive around the island and look at all of the trees that once occupied her nursery, but have been planted over the past 20 years.
“I drive down the street, and it’s crazy,” she said. “I just look and am like, ‘Oh, that one, and that one and I remember that one.'”
The trees she recognizes had their beginnings at Dig Nursery, a business she and her husband, Ross Johnson, created two decades ago on the main highway just north of Center. The 2-acre plot of land that houses the business — and raises a variety of plants from local trees to orchids, succulents and even cacti — also includes a small event space called The Greenhaus, Matlock and Johnson’s home and a smaller guest home the couple has been renting out through Airbnb for years. Last week, Matlock said it was occupied by a hiker who was taking on the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.
But the property that has come to be somewhat of an island icon is now up for sale as Matlock says she and her husband are ready for more “creative adventures” and want to take advantage of the current real estate market on Vashon.
“The market is fabulous for selling,” Matlock said early last week. “I’ve been through an (economic) downturn, and I just got to thinking, ‘How many more downturns do I have to go through? Twenty years is a long time to stick to one thing, and it’s a good time to move on.”
DIG Nursery will continue to be open for business until the property sells. The nursery’s fall and winter hours are Thursdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“A lot of people have been coming up to me and asking if I’m closing,” Matlock said. “I’m not closing; I’m selling the property.”
John L. Scott Vashon listed the property at 19028 Vashon Highway for $1,250,000 on Wednesday, and an open house is scheduled for Saturday, Oct.1. David Knight, the real estate broker working to sell the property, said he’s confident there will be interest.
“It’s sad to see them go, but someone needs to help them through the process,” he said.
Matlock’s longtime friend and fellow avid gardener, Karen Eliasen, agreed with Knight and said she is “selfishly so sad” for the day DIG closes.
“We are so fortunate to have their (Matlock’s and Johnson’s) generosity and creativity,” she said. “I am part of the Vashon Master Gardeners group and always knew DIG was a real treasure.”
Eliasen said she met Matlock on the first day the nursery opened when she came to the counter with an arm-full of “the most unsual things” Eliasen could find.
“She looked at me over her glasses in that way that only Sylvia can and said, ‘Oh, you’re a plant shark.’ I didn’t know how to take that, but I learned it was a good thing,” Eliasen said. “I’ve been blown away ever since.”
But Matlock offered far more than a nursery. Eliasen, who also owns Vashon Music, said Matlock was crucial to the success of her business.
“She was super helpful when I opened my own business with her ideas about innovation and how she succeeds,” Eliasen said. “she’s the real deal as far as artists go and we’re so lucky to have her in our midst out here.”
In fact, Matlock is so “real deal” that Seattle Times’ garden columnist Valerie Easton admitted she relied on Matlock’s trend-setting nursery and expertise in many a column.
“Vashon will be losing a great nursery and all of us who have depended on Sylvia’s plant knowledge over the years — can’t tell you how often I’ve quoted her in my Seattle Times gardening column — will so miss her expertise and great taste,” Easton said. “Sylvia has such a great eye, she’s thoroughly modern and tremendously plant savvy. And Ross has the know-how to build whatever the two of them think up.”
Back at DIG, looking back on her and Johnson’s time on the property, Matlock said that the business was, and continues to be, a learning experience. She opened the nursery after attending the Art Institute of Chicago and working “different creative jobs” in the city — including at flower shops, after moving to Seattle and then to Vashon and managing the floral department at Vashon’s Thriftway.
“Running your own department is like running a business,” she said. “You deal with profit and loss, margins and customers. I wanted to start my own business … (but) I wasn’t sure if I should do more of a work-from-home thing or stick my neck out and work with the public. I obviously chose the latter.”
She said her success with keeping the nursery open comes from her ability to embrace the changes that have come her way over the years — including technology — and the support from the community.
“We always remember the excitement of our flourishing business and visitors just walking in and saying, ‘Oooooh, aaaaahhh,'” she said. “All the people showing us pictures of what they did with the plants they bought here and bringing home-cooked meals when we were working weekends or fresh produce from their plants. It’s so generous of people.”
She said the toughest change for her was realizing that people have started coming by her nursery to get “ideas” and take photos, only to buy the plants online or somewhere else for less.
“The first thing I had to do was get over my frustration,” she said. “I started just coming up and asking, ‘Oh, what are you taking pictures of?’ Some would get annoyed, with others it would start a conversation. Slowly, I started doing little science experiments and then got on Instagram and the more visual social media and felt more like I was contributing. I felt more empowered.”
However, she said the trend is “still shocking,” but is part of the generational and technological shift.
“I try to make it about what’s important to me,” she said.
As for the future of the property, she said it will depend on who buys it — she is OK with, and encouraging of, a new owner reinventing the space.
“We do hope that the next owner is able to realize their own unique dream. They have the right to come in and make their own masterpiece,” she said. “It’s endless what you can do here.”