McMinnville, Tennessee: Nursery Capital of the World
It doesn’t take long for visitors to Warren County to realize the region is a natural wonderland. With more than 300 nurseries operating in McMinnville and the surrounding vicinity, the city has come to be known as the Nursery Capital of the World. Local growers ship their trees, plants and flowers to customers all over the United States. It’s a trade that has thrived in McMinnville for more than a century, thanks to the region’s fertile soil, mild climate and geographic location.
Cumberland Valley Nursery
Warren County nurseries range in size from one-man operations to long-standing family businesses such as Cumberland Valley Nursery, which dates back to 1902.
“I started as a partner at Cumberland Valley Nursery in 1988, and my wife Pat and I bought it in 1992,” says Phillip Pelham, president of Cumberland Valley Nursery. “My wife and I had both been growing trees all our lives, even before we met. Today we’re one of only two Warren County nurseries that specialize in fruit trees and sell them to commercial orchards.”
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Cumberland Valley Nursery grows 1.5 million fruit trees annually in more than 150 different varieties of peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, pears, cherries, apricots and almonds. Phillip’s son Nick is vice president of the nursery and started helping his father with the business at age 19.
“I love farming and being outside – it’s all I’ve ever done,” Nick says.
While Cumberland Valley primarily sells trees wholesale to commercial orchards, they also sell to homeowners. “We’ve seen a lot of homeowner demand from people who want a few fruit trees in their back yards,” Nick says. “We can ship anywhere from one tree to a whole semi-truck load.”
Phillip credits McMinnville’s geographic location as the reason for the area’s high concentration of nurseries. “If you go any further south, the climate is too hot, and if you go north, the growing season is too short,” he says. “McMinnville is an ideal location.”
At Mary’s Greenhouse, the focus is not on trees, but on annuals and perennials. The business is named after founder Mary Hamby, who started the nursery with her husband Joe as a backyard hobby around 1976. Mary died in 2009, but her husband and adult children continue to work at the greenhouse, which now has about 20 employees.
“My mom loved plants, and that’s how we came to be,” says Mike Hamby, president of Mary’s Greenhouse. “She liked trying new things, and people showed up to buy them. She loved to dig and weed, which sounds like work to most people, but it wasn’t work to her.”
Mike runs the business with help from his dad, brother Gary, wife Beth Hamby, sister Beth Jacobs and sister-in-law Charlotte. His nephew, Scott, works at the greenhouse part-time.
“We grow a huge variety of annuals and perennials, from impatiens to hostas, and sell them both wholesale and retail to the public,” Mike says.
Mary’s Greenhouse also offers ornamental grasses, vines, hardy ferns, roses, groundcovers, hanging baskets, herbs and vegetables. There are too many varieties to choose a favorite, Mike says, but he is somewhat partial to daylilies.
“We grow a lot of daylilies. They’re a good, low-maintenance plant,” he says. “If I want to get away from everything, I’ll go divide up daylilies. I like to watch things grow.”
Boyd & Boyd Nursery
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Three miles away on Smithville Highway, Boyd & Boyd Nursery is run by fifth-generation nurseryman Tommy Boyd. He took over the business in 1988, and it offers a large selection of shade trees, ornamentals, evergreens, and deciduous and ornamental shrubs. About 90 percent of the nursery’s products are sold wholesale to landscapers and garden centers, but they welcome the public too.
“We keep a well-stocked sales yard, so it’s easy for people to drive in and visit us,” says Tyra Green, office manager at Boyd & Boyd Nursery. “I love seeing all the people who come through. We get a lot of customers from Nashville, Chattanooga and Kentucky.”
If the dedication of current nurserymen and women in McMinnville is any indication, the region’s abundance of green-thumbed citizens is sure to carry on into the future.
“I’ve got a 3-year-old grandson who already wants to be a farmer,” says Phillip back at Cumberland Valley Nursery. “He lives and breathes John Deere tractors.”