This article appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of Texoma Living!.
The Graham Family, founders of Denison’s Twin Oaks Nursery. (L-R) Bryan Graham, Bob Graham, Luella Graham, Linda Graham-Taube, and Bruce Graham.
Bruce Graham doesn’t remember why he called the nursery he started almost 30 years ago “Twin Oaks.” As best he can recall there weren’t any trees on the property that inspired the name.
Graham’s sister, Linda Graham-Taube didn’t know about the name either, and she was the one telling the story before brother Bruce came in from the fields. “We’re from a little town west of Chicago called Waterman, Illinois,” she said. “My mom and dad lived there all their lives, until they moved down here.” The elder Graham ran a small town grocery in Waterman, a town of about 1,100 south of the county seat of DeKalb, home of the famous DeKalb Seed Company.
The Grahams had an uncle, a major in the air force, who was stationed at Perrin AFB, and on more than one occasion the family came down to Texoma to visit. That, plus more relatives in Dallas, prompted Bruce to come south when he graduated from McHenry County Community College with a degree in horticulture.
Linda had gotten that far into the story when Bruce came in from the nursery and took up the tale. The first question on the table was, “Why horticulture?”
“I didn’t have a clue about what I wanted to do when I got out of high school. Growing up I had worked in the grocery store, but that wasn’t that appealing,” Bruce said. Someone suggested horticulture, and once Bruce figured out what it was, he dug a little deeper. “My parents had a friend, a former superintendent of schools, who taught the subject at a local college. I went up and talked to him, and decided this was something I could get interested in.”
The economic opportunities in Waterman were slowing down—there was talk of the schools closing down and consolidating—so Bruce came to Texas, where he worked for a nursery company in Dallas for a year and then decided to branch out on his own. Brother Brian joined him in Denison, and the two started doing landscape and yard maintenance work. Why Denison? That’s where their grandmother lived.
The brothers’ parents left Waterman and move to North Texas in 1979, and that’s when the family decided to start the nursery. Linda and her family joined them in 1992. “My husband didn’t like the cold up north,” she said. As the Grahams’ told their story, one couldn’t help but wonder if there was anyone left in Waterman, Ill.
Bruce said gardening was a growing business in the late 70s and early 80s, so it was a good time to be in the nursery business, but Twin Oaks basically started from scratch. “We had an idea of what we wanted to develop, and we worked really hard,” he said. “We envisioned a nursery that would be open year round where we could help the local people with their gardening needs. It has blossomed into something much larger than we had anticipated in the beginning.”
Twin Oaks develops and sells good products, but Bruce Graham will tell you that plants may not really be their most important commodity. “It’s a place people come for advice, on trees and shrubs and every type of gardening question they might have. They come for answers from people who have been in the business for a long time and can help them.”
So what do people look for when they come to the nursery? “It’s different between men and women,” said Linda. “I think women are more visual. They come in here for inspiration, color, ideas. They like the bedding plants and the accessories.”
Accessories are a growing trend in gardens. We may not be up to the British level of a gnome under every bush yet, but Twin Oaks has a good selection of pottery and fountains. It’s an HGTV thing, Linda said.
If a woman wants a blouse, she can try it on in the store; the end effect is not so easy to see when it comes to a plant. That’s why display is so important to the nursery business. Just as the department store creates stunning examples of what you can expect if you buy their wares, so does the nursery bring the promise of their ideas to life in living form with their displays. “It’s just as important,” said Linda. “Women want to see something pretty.”
Springtime is a particularly busy season for the nursery business. “People have been cooped up all winter and they want to get out in the garden,” Bruce said. “They want some color.”
When the Grahams started the business, the only thing on the property was a small house. It’s still there and serves as the office. Overall, the grounds cover seven acres. Space is important, because there are more things to grow than ever before. “In the last 10 years there has been a lot of research in genetics. There have been a tremendous number of new plants and new colors introduced.” Bruce said.
Some things don’t sell as well as expected, but Linda said one sure way to guarantee sales, at least around here, is to put “Texas” and “Giant” in the name. “I’ll give you an example,” she said. “Elephant ears. You buy them in a bulb form and they are one of those things where bigger is better. We have some called Texas Giant Elephant Ears. They were huge, and they were very expensive, and because they had the label Texas Giant, we couldn’t keep them in stock. Anything with the name Texas is popular.” Take that, Oklahoma.
North Texas is not exactly a gardener’s Eden. “It’s hotter here and drier, and our soil is worse, so it’s not an easy place to grow things,” Linda said. “Even in East Texas and Dallas it is easier.” But gardeners are a persistent lot, so they don’t give up. “They work so hard, it’s just amazing. They are very dedicated gardeners here, and they don’t get discouraged. They keep trying year after year.”
There is an old adage about how the cobbler has no shoes, and it has a parallel with the Twin Oaks Nursery business. Both Bruce and Linda admit, with just a little embarrassment, that their own yards are not exactly showplaces. “After you work here all day, get home and have supper, it’s all she wrote,” said Linda.
And Bruce agrees. “If I were not in this business I would like to work in my yard, and I hope it would look a lot better than it does.”
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The resource information listed above is given based on information provided by the individual business owner and has not been verified by Texoma Living!. The information was accepted at face value and no recommendation is expressed or implied by the publication. Always verify a vendor’s ability to perform the services offered and ask for as much information as might be needed to make an informed decision.