David Shaddix is the owner of Maple Valley Nursery, a wholesale growing operation based in Shelby County. Maple Valley Nursery offers landscape companies and retail garden centers a unique and diverse selection of container-grown ornamental and edible shrubs, grasses, and perennials – even carnivorous plants. David has been growing and experimenting with plants for the last 35 years.
1. What was the primary motivation for starting Maple Valley Nursery and when did it take off?
“I’ve always had a passion for plants. When I was 11 or 12, I grew plants in a vegetable garden. I also enjoyed experimenting with propagation. Since I didn’t want to throw any plants away, my inventory began to grow. Growing and propagation are what I really enjoy – having my hands in the dirt. A few years after I bought the farm in Sterrett, left retail and focused on the wholesale nursery. It took several years, but we started Maple Valley Nursey full-time in 2009.”
2. What does a typical day look like for you?
“Oh, it depends on the season. So much of our job is ensuring plants get the right amount of irrigation and fertilizer…in addition to spacing, pruning, potting and new production. I like to joke we just move plants around. Something always needs to be moved to a bigger pot or from one spot to another. I usually think I know how my day will go, but three-quarters of the time, that’s not what happens.”
3. What do you think most people don’t know or assume incorrectly about your field?
“Many people don’t realize the amount of work or labor that goes into owning a nursery. I may have been fooled, too. It is easy to think you just work with plants and it’s all fun, but there’s a lot of wear and tear on the body. Often, we find that folks may think we’re in the landscaping business if we grow plants. I’ve always felt to do one well you are better not to do the other.”
4. When you are not working, how do you spend your time?
“I always have to be doing something. So, I like to have projects on the weekends. It used to be woodworking, but lately, it’s been more home improvement. There is a lot of satisfaction that comes from seeing a job done at the end of the day.”
5. Have you noticed any growing or trending areas in the industry?
“I think the interest in edibles is still growing and gaining momentum. When talking to people new to gardening, the conversations always seem to revolve around growing fruits and vegetables. Edibles are a great gateway to grow new gardeners, giving them a productive ‘payback’ and keeping them curious about new things to try.
At the same time, we’ve seen two simultaneous trends in wholesale nursery orders or landscape designer interest: a desire for both native plants and highly-marketed, branded introductions. We serve all of those interests with our very diverse availability and are always interested to hear what piques our customers’ interest for something new to try.”
6. What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of your role?
“I really enjoy seeing our plants go to new homes. It’s very rewarding to make something from scratch – and have our hobby and passion be our job. Keeping the insects and disease at bay is challenging. As soon as you think you’ve got a plant looking just right, something can pop up that changes things overnight. It requires constant attention.”
7. Do you have a mentor or colleague who has played an integral role in helping shape your career?
“My grandparents (both sets) were influential in helping me learn about plants. I stayed with them every summer from when I was 7 or 8 until about 14. I helped in their vegetable gardens and loved to order seeds and grow them. My last employer, Steve Hanna, was also very supportive in what I wanted to do. He really helped me ease into it while still having a full-time job with his nursery. Of course, my wife has been so good about supporting the nursery and giving it a shot.”
8. If there is one lesson you’ve learned after working in horticulture for so long, what would it be?
“I’ve learned how nice of a community it is. Everyone seems willing to help and it doesn’t feel like you’re battling competition. People want to see you succeed and there’s more than enough room for new growers if you’re willing to work hard. I’ve never felt like anyone wanted to see us fail.”
9. Can you tell me something most people may not know about you or the nursery?
“People may not know that Maple Valley is home to hundreds of purple martins each year, in addition to a heck of a lot of plants. I caught the bug from my PawPaw Shaddix, who grew a large vegetable garden and provided homegrown gourds for the migrating martins. Using seed he had saved over the years to grow large, natural gourds and installing racks of improved man-made gourds, we host about 130 pairs of purple martins each year. Garden & Gun recently covered our story, hopefully inspiring others to provide a home for these neat birds that need us.”
Photo Credit: Randy Mayor