The History of Saunders Brothers

(by Robert Saunders, 3rd Generation of Saunders Brothers)

The date was 1915. My grandfather (Sam), and four of his brothers (Dick, Doc, Will, and Massie) from a family of eleven children, decided to form a partnership and share the money they had made trapping rabbits, and Saunders Brothers was born. With the coming of the Great Depression, money became tight and most of the family was forced to take jobs elsewhere. However, three of the brothers (Dick, Doc, and Sam), while working off-the-farm jobs, maintained the farm partnership, thanks to dedicated helpers and sharecroppers.

My dad, Paul, propagated his first boxwood in the spring of 1947. A multi-talented science teacher and my grandmother showed him how to make cuttings for propagation. Intrigued, he chose the north side of the red clay, piney-thicket hillside near our current office as his propagation site. An 11-year old friend helped him with the project. He stuck 77 slips into the red earth, which was cooled by its northern exposure, and was shaded by the pines. He 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. He recalls being truly excited, and at the age of 13, bought out his partner for $1.00.

Encouraging my dad’s interest, my grandfather fenced off an area behind their house in the corner of the barn lot near the woodpile for his 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 his venture. The small nursery began to grow, and my dad found people willing to buy the boxwood. After college, Dad became very busy running his full-time land surveying business while farming to support his seven young sons. Needing room to expand, he chose to plant the boxwood on the fertile river bottom land.

On August 19, 1969, Hurricane Camille dumped more than 20” of rain on our countryside in one horrible night of destruction and loss of life. Almost all our ten acres of plants on the river bottom were destroyed, along with the container nursery on the riverbank. Only a few plants high on a pine-covered hill survived. With this as a nucleus, the container nursery was established.

As time passed, my 6 brothers and I all went away to college. Then, one by one, we began to return. Tom and his wife, Lyn, both horticulturists, came home to work in the container nursery. Bennett took over field production, as well as the peach orchards, most of which he converted into more productive apple orchards. I (Robert) returned to help engineer the rapid expansion of the nursery, then later, I 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 and farm market. His wife Amy is now our payroll clerk. Two other brothers, Massie and Sam, worked in the business at one time.  Both still live locally, and Sam is a landscaper while Massie is a land surveyor and engineer. John chose not to return to our farm but married into a local orchard and cattle farming family and today helps manage that business.  Along the way, Frank, a French-Canadian by birth and a master mechanic, became another member of our family team. Lastly, Ivan, a Russian born exchange student chose to stay in the United States and now resides in southwest Virginia.

And now with great joy, I am happy to say we have begun hiring some of the 4th generation of Saunders into phases of our business.  Marshall works in fruit and bench graft sales, Annie oversees our retail enterprise, and James manages our field operations. 

Today my dad, brothers, sisters-in-law, nephews, and daughter along with a dedicated family of employees make up the Saunders Family.  From all of us here at Saunders Brothers, thank you for trusting our team, believing in our products, and making our business a family tradition.

Robert Saunders