"HOMETOWN ROOTS ARE THE BEST"  (An exerpt from the Wood County Cooperative Magazine May 2015 issue.)

ROB MCDONALD ISN'T RELATED TO BOB WELLS, but he might as well be. When he was 12 years old, he began working for Wells' father, Bobby Lenis Wells, at Bob Wells Nursery in Lindale. At first McDonald did odd jobs, then eventually he worked more formally part time after school and then during the summers until he left his hometown of Lindale to attend Blinn College in Bryan. Even then, McDonald would occasionally work for the Wells family, helping them out at garden shows. Because he'd learned so much about the nursery business from the Wells', it was easy for him to get a job working at a nursery near school. Following school, McDonald worked in landscaping and then worked as the administrator for a nonprofit. But while he loved that job, he always missed working in horticulture. Upon returning to his hometown of Lindale in 2008, McDonald also returned to his roots at Bob Wells Nursery, where he is now the manager. The nursery is now owned by Bob Wells, and McDonald's job satisfaction is evident as he says,

"This is the best job by far that I have ever had." And then he adds of Wells, "He is the best boss by far that I have ever had." Farming is a fifth-generation business for the Wells family, with a long lineage in trees and produce that evolved into the nursery. The core of their business is "edible landscape," such as nut and fruit trees, along with berry bushes and grape vines. But they also sell shade and ornamental trees, rose- bushes and other flowering shrubs. And they carry specialty and hard-to-find plant varieties. "People know Bob Wells Nursery for the quality, and people come back year after year," McDonald says. In addition, McDonald says that every customer gets personal attention. In fact, that credo is even in the business' mission statement. McDonald explains, "We help our customers with variety selection, and we are very big on customer service. In fact, that is what sets us apart from the big-box stores. Even after a customer buys a tree, they are not on their own. We educate people, and that is the part I most enjoy."

The spring peach blossoms at Bob Wells Nursery foretell of a fruitful sumer harvest.

McDonald says the joy of his job is seeing the customers be successful, and customers can always call to ask questions about a plant before or after they have purchased it. He then quotes an oft-repeated refrain of Bob Wells: "A green thumb is just a little education and a lot of hard work." At Bob Wells Nursery, they want to paint every customer's thumb green. Part of that educational process is to make sure their customers buy the right plants for the hardiness zone applicable to them. These zones were designated by the United States Department of Agriculture, dividing the United States into 11 zones based on the lowest temperatures experienced there. While a plant may be able to live in a particular area, it might not thrive if it does not get the minimum number of chilling hours, or temperatures under about 45 degrees, in winter. For example, if a low-chill variety is planted in a colder climate, it may blossom too early, and the cold will damage the blossoms and end the promise of fruit. Many fruit and nut trees have a minimum period of cold weather they must be exposed to before they will blossom, and the blossom is essential for the tree to bear fruit. Because Bob Wells Nursery ships all over the United States, they have varieties suitable for every climate. But they also specialize in plants for Zone 8, which is the zone East Texas falls in. And some of those plants are surprising. Most apples are grown in the northern states because they require longer chilling hours than are typically experienced here in East Texas. But McDonald says they have quite a few varieties of apple trees that do very well in Zone 8, including Fuji, Gala and Pink Lady. The same goes for other fruits not typically grown in East Texas, such as cherries, apricots, avocados, olives, nectarines, pears and even a variety of satsuma called Arctic Frost. Speaking of surprising plants, Bob Wells Nursery carries quite a few hard-to-find and unique plants. They sell goji berry, a shrub that has become quite popular of late because of the high antioxidant content of the fruit. They also have the jujube tree, which produces a sweet date to eat fresh or dried.

The employees at Bob Wells Nursery have full days taking care of the many plants as well as preparing them for the daily mail-order business. The crew includes, from left, Mark Wells, Jane Ivey, Manager Rob McDonald, Owner Bob Wells, Felicio Hernandez, Jessica Hutchins and Adolfo Romero.

Rob McDonald, manager at Bob Wells Nursery, especially enjoys helping customers learn so they have a successful experience with their plants.

Bob Wells backs up the business that bears his name by solidly focusing on customer satisfaction.

Other edibles include tangelos, tangerines, mandarins, Kaffir limes, Meyer lemons, muscadines and other grape varieties, and blackberry and blueberry vines. Nut trees include many varieties of pecans (including paper-shell species), walnuts, almonds, chestnuts and hazelnuts. The nursery also carries specialties like the "fruit cocktail tree," a multigrafted product that bears peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots all on one tree. They also carry apple and pear trees that bear three varieties of the same type of fruit. "All I have to do is mention these, and they sell themselves," McDonald says. For their mail-order business, employees dig plants right out of the ground and ship them with bare roots. They can fit up to seven trees into one shipping box for the same shipping cost of sending one tree. Whether pickup or mail order, the bare-root season begins in October and continues through May. That's because bare-root trees need to be planted when the temperatures are not so hot. Special shipping arrangements can also be made for container plants to be delivered by common carrier all year. Customers also can visit the store year-round to shop for container trees. While the nursery specializes in fruit- and nut-producing plants, it also sells a large selection of roses, including all of the old favorites, climbers and the newer hardy knockouts. The nursery also carries flowering shrubs and trees such as magnolia, camellia, crepe myrtle, forsythia, flowering quince, wisteria and Japanese snowball. In the spring and summer, the nursery sells seasonal veg- etable plants and herbs as well as fresh produce grown on- site. The selection is wide and includes summer garden favorites such as tomatoes, squash, peppers, beans, onions, peas and berries. The nursery has seven employees, and of them, the busiest is Bob Wells himself. He personally oversees virtually every order, and does so with great energy. What he most wants people to know about his business is this: "We are not high- pressure. We want our customers to have what they want. We want them to be happy, whether they come here or not." His business is all about giving the customer knowledge to help them cultivate their own green thumbs. Wells embraces his own lessons, too. He says, "I learned a long time ago that the customer is always right." McDonald agrees and says that his favorite part of his job at Bob Wells Nursery is helping customers. He says, "I have the best of both worlds because I enjoy working in the office fulfilling orders and then being able to work outside with the customers, as well."

Mail-order customers of Bob Wells Nursery are often pleasantly surprised by the large size of the tree they receive by mail.

BOB WELLS NURSERY Address: 17160 CR 4100, Lindale 75771 Hours: Weekdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon Phone: (903) 882-3550 Email: bobwellsnursery@gmail.com Website: bobwellsnursery.com