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​Nature by Design

An environmentally responsible full service nursery & garden center specializing in native plants

300 Calvert Ave, Alexandria, VA

Proprietors: Randee Wilson and Carla Thomas


Phone:  703-683-GROW (4769)

Being a “beltway insider” may not be good politics right now, but having a plant nursery dedicated to native plants inside the beltway is a definite winner for plant lovers around here! “Nature By Design”, located in Alexandria just off Route 1, sources, grows and sells an inspiring array of native plants. Not sure how to incorporate native plants into your existing plantings? Nature By Design provides design services as well, and their guidance and creativity will set you on your way to a thriving native plant garden. The nursery’s focus on service is very evident in the helpfulness of the staff, who are always ready to assist customers in finding the right plant for the right place. 

Most area native plant enthusiasts already know Randee Wilson and Carla Thomas, the dynamic duo owners of Nature By Design, from visits to their nursery as well as Carla’s frequent teaching and lecturing gigs around town, but to find out more about how Nature By Design came to be and just how special a place it is click here. 

Nature by Design sells primarily Chesapeake Bay natives, and you will find tons of herbaceous perennials, from Asclepias tuberosa to Zizia aurea, and a great selection of woodies for small and large spaces. When you visit the nursery, it is clear that Randee and Carla are total plant enthusiasts. However, Randee describes himself as an ecologist first.  He grew up and went to college in southern Michigan and spent lots of time out of doors camping and hiking. His move to Northern Virginia meant he had his own garden for the first time and he became more focused on gardening and the role plants play in our ecosystem. When Carla and Randee met, they discovered they shared a passion for both plants and music. (As for music, they’ve been members of the local band “The Dog Band” for years, with Carla on lead guitar and vocals and Randee playing keyboard and trumpet.) 


Their love of plants (and BTW, for each other too, as they’ve now been married nearly 20 years) meant they spent all their time at nurseries, arboretums, gardens and parks, soaking up all they could and, as gardeners will appreciate, bringing home many plants to their own gardens. In fact, Nature By Design grew out of their love of buying and growing plants. As they shared their plants with others, Carla often helped with garden layout and design and she was soon working in landscape design full time. They opened the retail nursery at 300 Calvert Avenue in Alexandria 11 years ago. 

Randee steadfastly believes that “native plants are the most glamorous things in the world”. He bases that opinion on not only the plants’ inherent beauty, but perhaps most importantly, in the beauty that they create as dynamic, living participants in the natural world. He gives the example of the milkweed in your garden—a pretty but perhaps not a show stopper of a bloom in itself, but the milkweed in bloom attracts the striking monarch, a sight no one can help but take pleasure in, and then perhaps the monarch might catch the eye of a child who witnesses a monarch at eye level for the very first time. And what, Randee asks, could be more beautiful than watching a child who is captivated by a monarch in flight? 


Nature By Design is a true “mom and pop” business so rare in today’s world. The pride of ownership is reflected in the care they take with their plants and in selecting plants wisely.  When helping people with landscape design, Carla and Randee make sure that their clients are aware of any existing invasive plants on the property and also that any plants they recommend will be “the right plant for the right place” over time. Another example of their commitment to improving the ecological benefits of gardening is that they require that their growers certify that no neonicotinoid pesticides were ever used on the plants they purchase, meaning that their customers can rest assured their plants are safe for our pollinators and insect feeders. While the nursery business can be tough, Randee and Carla generously share their knowledge and enthusiasm and are determined to provide area gardeners with a wonderful selection of Chesapeake area native plants.  Make plans to visit their gem of a nursery soon!

Passion Flower, Passiflora incarnata (Photo by Nature by Design)

Wisteria - Amethyst Falls (Photo by Nature by Design)

Rhododendron, Choptank Rose (Photo by Nature by Design)

Witch Hazel, Hamamelis Virginian (Photo by Nature by Design)

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