John Whitehead (county agent) & Paul Saunders
The date was 1915. Five brothers from a family of eleven children decided to form a partnership and share the money that had been made trapping rabbits, and Saunders Brothers was born. With the coming of the Great Depression, money became tight. Although most were forced to take jobs elsewhere, three brothers maintained the family farm through farm helpers and sharecroppers, pitching in themselves during harvest time. They shipped apples in three-bushel barrels overseas, and when a neighbor received an unheard-of price of $1.00 for a bushel of peaches, they planted around 70 acres of peaches, almost overnight!
After World War II, prices of peaches fell, and expenses soared. As demand for more green Elberta peaches declined, the brothers began planting newer red varieties. They also expanded the cattle herd. The original Saunders Brothers declined to only two brothers, Sam (my father), and Dick (my uncle) - they were full partners until my father's death in 1967.
I propagated my first boxwood in the spring of 1947. A multi-talented science teacher and my mother showed me how to make cuttings for propagation. Intrigued, I chose the north side of the red clay, piney-thicket hillside as my propagation site. An 11-year old friend helped me with the project. We stuck 77 slips into the red earth, which was cooled by its northern exposure, and the pines kept off the hot sun. we watered them every few days from the little spring branch that was at the bottom of the hill. From this almost impossibly primitive beginning, 25 of the plants rooted. I was truly excited, and at the age of 13, bought out my partner.
Encouraging my interest, my father fenced off a corner of the barn lot near an old woodpile for my nursery. The manure that had accumulated for years in the milk cow lot, plus organic matter from the woodpile, provided a nearly ideal environment for my venture. This boxwood money helped pay for my wife's engagement ring and my first Ford car. I became very busy running a surveying business to make money to feed a house full of boys. Needing room to expand, I chose to plant the boxwood on the fertile river bottom land. Then I made the observation that people were beginning to grow plants in containers. My wife, Tatum, helped out driving around in a pickup truck full of children to county schools and the local pie factory, picking up discarded gallon tins.
On August 30, 1969, Hurricane Camille dumped more than twenty inches of rain on our countryside in one horrible night of destruction and loss of life. Almost all of our ten acres of plants on the river bottom were destroyed, along with the container nursery on the riverbank. Only a few plants near an old orchard reservoir in a grove of pines survived. With this as a nucleus, the container nursery was re-established. Eventually our customers wanted our boxwoods in plastic containers and we changed to suit their needs.
As time passed, my seven sons went away to college. Then, one by one, several of them returned. Tom and his wife, Lyn, both horticulturists, came home to work in the nursery. Bennett took over field production as well as the peach orchards, most of which he converted into more productive apple orchards. Robert returned to help us with our construction program of new plastic houses, then later became our salesman. Next, Jim, who began as a county extension agent, returned to help with our cattle, and has taken over our personnel duties. Two other biological sons, Massie and Sam worked in the business at one time. Each chose to leave and now have their own businesses and both live in Nelson County. Sam is a landscaper and Massie is a Land Surveyor and Engineer. Along the way, Frank, a French-Canadian by birth and a master mechanic, became another member of our family team. These four sons, my wife, Tatum, Frank, and Lyn are the team today. Along with many valuable workers, customers, and friends, we have created memories for the past 90 years, and continue to do so today.
From all of us here at Saunders Brothers, thank you for buying our plants and making our business a family tradition.
Paul M. Saunders