Chevy Chase History: The Snapdragon Pioneer on Jones Mill Road

If you love flowers or just Montgomery County fun facts, you’ll love this bit of Chevy Chase history!

Fred B. Winkler, a pioneer of hybrid snapdragons, lived on Jones Mill Road in Chevy Chase. At his family’s greenhouse, the Chevy Chase florist pioneered 21 varieties of hybrid snapdragons.

Bernhard Winkler and twins Fred and Elsie Winkler in the family greenhouse, Jones Mill Road, date unknown.
About Fred Winkler

The son of Hermine and Bernhard Winkler, Fred cultivated an interest in botany at a young age and worked for the family business, B. Winkler Florist. His father, Bernhard, moved to Chevy Chase to operate a plant nursery and greenhouses on Rosemary Street.

The family’s home was situated opposite the Rosemary water tower and on the location that would later become Chevy Chase Elementary School. In 1909, eight years before Fred was born, his parents relocated from Rosemary Street to Jones Mill Road, eventually owning three acres abutting Rock Creek Park.

The Winkler home on Rosemary Street with the water in the background, circa 1904-1909.
On Working with the Family Business

According to a 2004 interview with Fred Winkler for the CCHS Oral History Project, the botanist describe life on Jones Mill Road and working with his family, taking flowers from North Chevy Chase into Washington, D.C. for sale:

“They took the flowers to a commission house in Washington, sometimes on the streetcar from the lake. By then the streetcar was operating, by ‘[19]10 or [19]’11, somewhere in there. And sometimes they took a box of carnations, or sweet peas or whatever. In the ‘[19]50s we sold to local florist shops in Bethesda, Rockville, Silver Spring, Kensington, and two in D.C. But earlier we delivered them to a commission house in Washington on H Street….

Well, when I went with him he had large, five and a half, six foot light wood or timber boxes. And he would pick the flowers the day before and harden them overnight in water. Then in the early morning he’d pack them in and take them down, two to three, four boxes, whatever he had. Sweet peas and carnations early on, then some outdoor crops, too.
On the Hybrid Snapdragons

Fred graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and attended the University of Maryland where he received a graduate degree in botany. While attending school, he continued to work for the family business and pursued his interest in plant genetics and propagation. It was at this time that Fred introduced the F1 hybrid snapdragon, referred to as the “Maryland Pink.”

“In ‘[19]41, I introduced the first F1 Hybrid snapdragon. I was still in school. There was a little skepticism of it, at first, but it took off. The company that I did it through in Chicago said, ‘Well, it’s very nice. It’s sort of pale, and I don’t know what the trade’ll do with it.’ But it became very, very popular. And then the war came, and so I had other things on the way, but I had to slow them down.”

After serving in World War II and returning to Chevy Chase to continue to run the family business with his sister Barbara, Fred created 21 other varieties of hybrid snapdragons and they were distributed through multiple seed companies.

In 1992, 51 years after his introduction of the F1 hybird snapdragon, Fred Winkler sold his business to Pan American Seed Company and tore down his greenhouses.

He was featured in the CCHS documentary, “Chevy Chase, Maryland: A Streetcar to Home” and donated many images of the Winkler family to the CCHS archive. Fred Winkler passed away in 2015.

Photos courtesy of the Chevy Chase Historical Society