Meet horticulturist Diane Burns – our green thumbed plant whisperer. Diane has 20 years of experience tending some of the country’s finest gardens, including Monticello and Virginia House. At Pippin Hill, she’s digging in to expand the range of vegetables and fruits we produce. She shares our passion for cultivating all things delicious and beautiful, and loves to introduce Pippin Hill guests to what’s growing, so please explore and roam our gardens and introduce yourself to Diane next time you visit us.
A native Virginian, Diane spent the first eight years of her career as a Foreign Service Security Office with the US Department of State, including a two-year tour in Morocco, before moving to the Charlottesville area in 1995, with her husband and two young children. After taking some horticulture classes, she realized her true calling was an earthier sort of field work. “I just fell in love with horticulture. I love being outdoors, getting my hands dirty, seeing things germinate, then blossom, and then fruit. It’s so back-to-basics, so rewarding to me,” she says. And here’s what else she has to say about what she digs at Pippin Hill.
What attracted you to this position?
My first horticulture job was as a garden guide at Monticello, and then tending the gardens at Virginia House, which is a lovely, very classic English country-style garden. So two very different gardens, both ideal learning grounds. After that I spent 15 years running my own garden business, and was drawn to this opportunity to just be able to focus on one place, make it my own domain and expand the Pippin Hill kitchen garden program. Dean and Lynn are wonderful to work with, and they share my passion for really doing things right.
What’s new in the garden?
We added several new beds last fall, so this will be the first full season for them, including a 70-foot long bed that we’ve planted with Mara des Vois strawberries and the super sweet All-Star strawberry that Chef Bill specifically requested, as well espaliered pear trees. We’ve also started a small orchard, with three varieties of apples, including the Albemarle Pippin Apple that Jefferson grew at Monticello and that Pippin Hill is named for. Chef Bill also asked for rhubarb and gooseberries, which we planted by the Reserve Room.
Tell us about working with a kitchen. Is that unique here in Virginia?
There are a few other places, like Keswick Hall, for example, that have dedicated kitchen gardens, but we are definitely unique among Virginia vineyards. We are the only vineyard with a Tasting Room & kitchen sourced by its own garden. I love the creative partnership with Chef Bill. We sit down and discuss the menus, what he needs or would like, and what he likes to use, for example all our edible flowers. And then I go out and make it happen. Or try to!
What’s special about gardening at Pippin Hill Farm?
Well, besides the incredible view and great team of people, we have this awesome Southwest exposure that gives us a long growing season, so we can grow winter vegetables, like kales, chards and spinach, in addition to all the summer standards like beans, radishes, cucumbers, lettuces, tomatoes and fruits. I also love that guests come wander and roam around, and that I can give them a tour and share our vision for farm-to-table goodness.
Do you have a favorite Pippin Hill garden variety?
I really love our bountiful herb beds. I love how herbs are so versatile, with a beautiful leaf and blossom, a terrific fragrance and taste as well as medicinal purposes. In addition to the kitchen uses, we include herbs in our Tasting Room table bouquets too.