Family-owned nursery still blooming

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Buddy West doesn't have a green thumb, but he's crucial to his family's independent plant nursery.

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W.L. West (left) started the nursery as a hobby after spending years as a meat cutter. His son Buddy West took over the family business after years of working in sales for beauty salons.   Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
W.L. West (left) started the nursery as a hobby after spending years as a meat cutter. His son Buddy West took over the family business after years of working in sales for beauty salons.

The owner of West Nursery in Martinez isn't slowing down after retiring from nearly four decades as a sales consultant for local beauty salons. Each day, he either walks or rides across the street on his golf cart to the family business that his father, W.L. West, started 24 years ago.

"It was always his hobby. He turned his hobby into a business," West said of his 93-year-old father.

Three generations of West men have worked at the nursery at 3785 Murray Road in Martinez. Today, West's son, Bryan West, oversees the production and growing of plants. He juggles those responsibilities with his full-time job as a landscape supervisor for another company. He has been a part of the business since he was 12.

In addition to the finances, West said, he handles sales and most of the "grunt work" at the business, such as property maintenance and repairs. On any given day, you'll find him on his 1948 tractor mowing the grass.

West's father has retired from many of his duties at the nursery, though he still finds time to tend to plants each day.

In recent years, West Nursery has become more specialized in its plant offerings, now selling azaleas and landscape shrubbery.

The business sells to wholesale and retail businesses, including builders, golf courses, landscapers and other nurseries, and the general public.

"I think we're the only ones in this area to have a drive-through nursery," West said.

Customers can drive their trailers up to the plants they wish to purchase, select their plants and have them loaded into the vehicle by staff members, West said.

West enjoys his second career.

"I like getting outside. I like the challenges. I like getting to meet different people," he said.

Operating the nursery is a seven-days-a-week commitment. In order to leave home for an extended period of time, they have to hire someone to monitor the plants.

"It's like an old cow. You have to feed it all the time. If someone didn't enjoy this kind of work, it wouldn't be beneficial for anybody to try to do it. They have to really like it to do it," West said.

Though running the business doesn't leave much time for hobbies, West loves carpentry. He learned through trial and error and has built work tables for the nursery and a carport for his golf cart.

West is keeping the business alive because his son loves the work. He hopes that one day he'll hand over the family business.

"He's constantly staying in touch. Even with his full-time job, he finds time to do that because that's his love," West said.

The business has two part-time workers. A 9-year-old boy from the neighborhood also enjoys coming over to help with odd jobs.

"He said he was going to put on his Facebook that this was an awesome place to work," West said.

Douglas and Jenni Scott, of Martinez, have been coming to West Nursery for three years. They live around the corner. Recently, they were shopping there for sky pencil holly.

"We come because of the value. You seem to get more for your money. You get personal attention," Douglas Scott said.

They often ask the owner for specific plants they would like to purchase, and he always finds the plants for them, he added.

Homegrown

West spent most of his life in Augusta. He grew up in the city as an only child. His mother, Ruth, was a secretary at a Veterans Administration hospital. His father was a meat supervisor.

"He was a meat supervisor for an A&P store years ago, but he always loved plants," West said. "He always had a little greenhouse. When he retired, he was helping a fella build a greenhouse in Hephzibah. I told him that we had the land, and he had the knowledge. We would start doing it here at home. That's how we got started."

His father purchased the land in 1950, and West and his wife, Edna, later bought it from him. To fulfill his father's dream, West and his father built four greenhouses and borrowed money to start the nursery.

When his father started the business, West was working full time for a Macon, Ga.-based beauty supply company. He sold products to salons in the Augusta-Aiken and Lincolnton, Ga., areas for 36 years.

"I enjoyed it. I took the order, and they'd ship it to them," West said.

He's no stranger to hard work. West had a paper route starting at age 12. When he turned 16, he followed in his dad's footsteps and became a meat cutter. His father gave him his first job.

West continued in the profession after high school, but he realized that he didn't enjoy the work. He didn't like being confined behind a counter.

"I hated it. I did that for seven years," he said.

Luckily, the sales job came along, which gave him the opportunity to work with people. He lived in Macon for three years, then returned to Augusta. Those were the only years he has lived outside the city.

In the early years of the nursery, his father was so eager to share his love for plants with others that he did it at his own expense. Sometimes he would drive to the bank, open up his truck and give some of his plants to female customers or employees.

"It was hard trying to keep him from giving everything away," West said.

Growing plants can be expensive. There are a lot of costs, including fertilizer, labor and soil, so West said that he had to monitor their finances carefully.

Over the years, they gained steady business and loyal customers.

For a while, West's wife helped out at the business pulling weeds from pots and cleaning the nursery, though she doesn't prefer the work. The two met through a friend and have been married for 42 years.

"It's just amazing that we've gotten where we have. I love it when they get it real pretty down there. I like to just look out the window at it," Edna West said about the rainbow of pink, white and red azaleas at the nursery.

Taking root

West relies on his son Bryan's expertise.

"There's so much to learn. He's in the business, so he knows what to bring in that landscapers are looking for," West said.

West Nursery sells azaleas, boxwoods, hollies, ligustrums and a few perennials.

Bryan West grew up across the street from the family business, and he remembers when he used to fill the trays with soil and help his grandfather propagate shrubs in the greenhouse. At one point, he worked alongside both his father and grandfather at the business.

He saw the nursery being built from the ground up. His grandfather was a "jack of all trades," doing everything from constructing greenhouses to installing irrigation systems.

While his siblings chose not to work at the business, some of his friends worked there with him after school and on weekends.

After graduating from high school, he accepted a job at a local plant nursery. He has worked for several nurseries over the years.

"I've been in the business all my life," Bryan said. "I kind of learned over the years from the school of hard knocks. I learned from a lot of successful people."

At West Nursery, he's responsible for growing and fertilizing plants, pruning, ordering, sales and irrigation. He comes to the business once a week after his full-time job and spends his weekends there.

"That's one thing that keeps us going. We've got low overhead because we're not scared to get out there, do it ourselves and work," Bryan said.

If landscapers need a specific plant that the nursery doesn't carry, Bryan works diligently to locate it for them.

"I like to help them get the job. That way everybody wins," he said. "That's one thing about this business. There's competition, but everybody kind of helps each other out."

It's hard work, but he can't imagine doing anything else.

"I love being outdoors and getting to see things grow," Bryan said. "I like the people in the business, dealing with other landscapers. This is fun work to be in."

There are many challenges associated with running a nursery, his father said.

Sometimes the plants fall victim to acts of nature or animals. Last year, deer ate all of the nursery's Indian Hawthorne plants.

"They have been known to eat some plants," West said.

It's also important to make sure the plants are getting just the right amount of water. Sometimes sprinklers malfunction, and West has to correct the problem quickly or they'll lose plants.

The nursery relies on well water, so they also have to make sure they have enough water to last the hot summer months.

One year, they lost 300 loropetalum when a worker planted them too deep in the soil.

"If you make a mistake, it's costly," Bryan West said. "It's just like any other business, though. There's risks involved in everything."

Freezing temperatures can especially create problems for a nursery. This year's winter was harsh, but the nursery survived because everyone took the proper precautions such as covering the plants or placing them in the greenhouse.

The biggest challenge is getting customers to come out and take a look at their merchandise. West Nursery is competing with large retail chains, West said.

"Once they see the quality and prices, then they have a little different outlook," he said.

New growth

Bryan West plans to someday take over the family business.

"I'd like to see this be a place where I could provide jobs for a couple of good people and keep it going," he said.

Among its options, the business could produce strictly greenhouse plants or sell shrubbery and trees instead.

"We've got the knowledge to do anything, and we've got the set up to do it. And we're in a prime location," Bryan said.

Columbia County is growing, and fortunately, they're in the middle of it, he added.

Until then, he will continue juggling his time between his regular job and the family business.

"I think I was kind of born with it -- liking outdoor work. Anybody in the business will tell you, you've got to have a love for it," Bryan said.

Buddy West

TITLE: Owner of West Nursery

BORN: Dec. 22, 1937, in Augusta

FAMILY: Wife, Edna; children, Greg, Angela, Maurie and Bryan

HOBBIES: Carpentry

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No_Longer_Amazed
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No_Longer_Amazed 05/02/10 - 09:24 pm
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Last week my wife decided she

Last week my wife decided she wanted some red roses, so we drove around and ended up at West's Nursery and bought 4 bushes. She was so happy with the quality and price we went back the next day and bought 4 more. While we were there the first time I had a very nice conversation with W.L. about rooting cuttings. On both visits, Buddy provided very friendly customer service.

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