Jeanette and Nick Cadwallender

Story by Diane Beyer

It began in Nepal. He was on a long service leave from his job in Australia and she was backpacking through several countries with girlfriends. They married less than a year after they met. That was over 30 years ago. 

Today, Jeanette and Nick Cadwallender live in a historic home on the remains of a family farm in the City of Fredericksburg. The home has been lovingly restored, as has the land. “People always marvel at the large size of the lot we live on … It’s really NOT a large lot, it’s what remains of a family farm that has been in Jeanette’s family for generations,” Nick explains. “We’ve turned it back into a farm of sorts, right in the middle of the city.” Jeanette’s grandmother lived in the house until her death in 2012 at the age of 104. 

“We try very hard not to use chemicals here, so we do some creative things.”

The area he speaks of is 9/10-acre, a huge expanse in a city such as Fredericksburg, where lots are often described in feet. And Nick puts every bit of the land to use. He and his wife both enjoy gardening, one of the things that drew them to each other, and an activity that they still enjoy together.

Jeanette’s mother and grandmother were involved in local garden clubs and she heartily continues that tradition. In addition to the vegetable gardens on the couple’s property, Jeanette tends to flower gardens containing many bulbs and native plants. Flowers from the gardens are often sought to use at the historic St. George Church. There is also an impressive rain garden that filters rainwater from the roof of the historic home and keeps runoff from entering storm sewers. 

There used to be a tennis court on the property, built on land that was once gardened by Jeanette’s grandfather. Nick has reverted the tennis court back to a garden. There he grows vegetables year round with the help of homemade hoop houses. In early November he plants greens that thrive all winter, providing fresh salads for the family even in the coldest of Virginia winters. 

He never tires of learning new gardening techniques, and for one week each year for two years he visited a convent in upstate New York and learned tricks of the trade from the nuns who live there. He says he could easily live with the nuns full time. “Imagine how hard it would be for me if I lost my husband to the nuns,” Jeanette giggles. 

Members of Jeanette’s family, the Rowes, ran the city’s newspaper beginning in the 1920s. Nick served as associate publisher from 1998 to 2011, when he took the helm as publisher and continued the Rowe family connection until 2014. He now serves the community by working with a local river restoration nonprofit group, another cause that was dear to Jeanette’s father, Josiah, who spearheaded the city’s purchase of 4,800 acres of riparian land adjacent to the Rappahannock River, up to 30 miles upstream from Fredericksburg, which continues to be managed as wilderness and provides improved water quality and recreation opportunities for residents. 

Pollinators are also important to the Cadwallenders, who plant many natives, even interspersing plants such as Nasturtium and sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) in the vegetable garden to encourage increased yields. Nick used to farm honeybees. “We lost the bees to weather and illness. It’s just too hard to keep them without a lot of chemicals nowadays. And chemicals are something we try not to use here.” He is interested in trying to attract and house native solitary bees in the upcoming year. 

The homemade hoop houses allow year-round gardening. Photo by Nick Cadwallender.

Five fat, shiny hens inhabit a two-story coop and three distinct yards, where they assist Nick and Jeanette by scratching up their territory and adding natural soil amendments. The hens are rotated from yard to yard, similar to rotational grazing practices used with larger livestock, allowing foraging areas to rest and recoup. Eggs are gathered daily and shared with neighbors and friends.

Furthering the self-sufficiency mantra, Nick accepts food waste from a local food bank. Approximately 10 5-gallon buckets of food scraps are sent to the mini-farm each week and the goods are composted for inclusion in the gardens. He laughs when he tells the story of driving around on trash day looking for old carpeting to bring home to lay over the garden soil to kill weeds. “We try very hard not to use chemicals here, so we do some creative things,” he quips.

Top photo: The Cadwallenders stand next to a metal rooster that friends purchased and installed on their property when they were away. Nick had admired it in a local store for months, but didn’t admire the price! Photo by Diane Beyer.

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