Daniel Combe’s company hat brings him a lot of attention—and questions. Seeing the name of a trusted nursery that’s been open for almost 70 years makes people want to stop and talk plants. “I can’t go to dinner without running into someone that asks, what’s going on with my tree?” Daniel says. “And I’m looking at a phone in Texas Roadhouse trying to zoom in and figure out what’s going on. I go to the bank and the next thing you know I’ve got two bank customers talking to me about their yard and I thoroughly enjoy it.”
Valley Nursery, Inc., was started in Uintah in 1948 by Arthur Combe, Daniel’s great-grandfather. The famous nursery at the mouth of Weber Canyon has been a family affair ever since. Daniel says, “A lot of Combes have used this nursery as a stepping stone in life. Almost all of us have worked here at one point or another.” Daniel grew up working in the nursery under the guidance of his grandfather, Basil. He officially went on the payroll at ten years old.
Daniel eventually left to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business management and he owned a successful construction company. In 2009, Daniel’s grandfather asked him to come back to manage the nursery’s operations and finances. The first year was tough as they worked to recover from the recession, but Daniel has never looked back. “I wear my company hat everywhere I go because I’m proud to work here—I’m proud to be the owner—proud of my family and everything my dad had done, my grandfather, my great-grandfather. One day I hope she [pointing to his daughter] feels the same.”
Last fall, Daniel and his father, Allen, bought Basil’s shares so he could retire. But that doesn’t mean the nursery isn’t still a major part of Basil’s life. Daniel explains, “Even though my grandfather hasn’t really worked this year, I still have bi-weekly conversations with him about the weather patterns because that knowledge in his brain is irreplaceable.” And when plants are struggling to grow at the nursery, Daniel and Allen will ask Basil to plant them in his yard and keep an eye on them.
Today, Valley Nursery is thriving thanks to the work of generations of Combes. And despite changing trends, they are helping people find joy in gardening. Daniel says, “Gardening twenty years ago was America’s pastime. It is coming back. With magazines like Utah Stories and that niche of clientele, there are people who want the heirlooms, want to garden, want to get back to basics and we cater to that.”
Valley Nursery sees customers from Twin Falls, Idaho, to Saint George, and from all ages and circumstances. “We get everybody. Everyone from high school kids wanting to do a project, to college kids just getting out of a basic introduction to plants and wanting to grow a garden in their windowsill, to 80-year-olds who have been shopping here for 50 years.”
Valley Nursery sells thousands of trees, flowers, vegetables, and shrubs. But that’s not all. As Daniel explains it, “I think our biggest seller is our knowledge. I don’t have a salesperson here that hasn’t worked for us for at least five years or been in the industry their entire life. My top two salespeople have been in the horticulture industry since they were in high school and they’re 65 now.”
Those experienced employees are invaluable to the customers they serve. According to Daniel, “We’re trying to expand our market, to get to the people that want to garden, because that’s what we love. It’s really cool to get a customer that comes in and doesn’t really know what they want. They might not be your biggest sale of the day, but having them leave with that smile and enthusiasm about gardening is awesome. That’s a huge rush for us.”
Relationships are the core of Valley’s business—relationships with customers, with employees, and with vendors. “A lot of our vendors are the same size as we are. Mom and pop’s just like us. We’ve done business with some of these nurseries for 60, 70 years. And sales reps come and go, but the owners stay the same, same family, just like us. There’s a lot of respect there,” Daniel says.
The most important relationship for Daniel is the one he has with his family. When you ask him what drew him back to Valley Nursery, he has one simple answer: “Working with my dad. I came back for him. In my soul I came back for my dad. He’s my best friend. The plants are in our blood. I can’t imagine doing something else.”
It’s easy to wander for hours through Valley Nursery, and it is certainly worth the time. Learn more at their website.