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NFocus Magazine: Behind the Scenes: David Bates

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NFocus Magazine: Behind the Scenes: David Bates

AUTHORS Lauren Langston Stewart | PHOTOGRAPHERS Daniel Meigs

David Bates was born into the family business. He’s been working at Bates Nursery & Garden Center since he was a child, and growing up around plants and landscape architects has taught him a thing or two about horticulture. Bates Nursery carries everything from ground-cover plants to large trees in containers and offers a comprehensive selection of annuals and perennials, but the yearly winter lull caused David to look beyond potted plants and expand his business into soil production. The result was EarthMix, a high-quality, organic line of compost, soil and amendments, which not only offers a way for his valued employees to log hours during the off-season but also provides his customers with a far superior product to cheap bagged "topsoil," which David says often includes zero true topsoil and is “the most expensive dirt you can buy.”


When David’s not getting his hands dirty, he can be found writing his weekly newsletter — which goes out to a whopping 16,000 subscribers! — or heard on the air with WSM for the At Home Show alongside Josh Cary, where they talk about “anything of interest to us and to our callers — other than politics and religion.” Fortunately for us, David brushed off his hands during his busy spring season to answer a few questions about the nursery, his favorite plants and what he loves most about Nashville.


Name: David Bates
Job title:
Owner/president of Bates Nursery & Garden Center
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee
Zip code:
Years working at Bates:


How did Bates Nursery come about? My grandmother Bessie Bates convinced my very skeptical grandfather that they should mortgage their home for $200 to build a concrete block and glass “hot house” in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. The original location was 26th Avenue and Charlotte Pike.


What’s your favorite part of being at the nursery? The business aspect is what keeps me engaged, and I’m a project kind of guy. An 87-year-old business is a target-rich environment; there is no end to repairs, maintenance and upgrades of the facility. I’m always thinking about the next project. I enjoy the process of improvement.


What makes Bates a better place to shop? Our personnel. We have a staff loaded with friendly and helpful “plant geeks.” We have information with a smile. We don’t sell; we simply help our guests — we don’t call them customers — find solutions to their unique gardening situation. 


What would you recommend for people who are just starting out with houseplants or landscaping? Get a plan together. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Successful gardeners aren’t lucky — they’re experienced. Don’t purchase everything that looks pretty to you. Ask questions; ask more questions. Take photos of the area(s) you want to work on and bring them with you. Horticulturalists are visual people; they need pictures.


What is your favorite indoor plant? If sufficient bright light is available indoors, I adore succulents. They tend to thrive on neglect. If you love to water often, ignore that suggestion ... Outdoor? As a family of understory trees, Japanese maples are a must-have for every landscape — as long as you have shady afternoon conditions and sun in the morning. There are hundreds of cultivars to choose from. My favorite is: Tamukeyama or Orangeola — no wait, Sango-Kaku. Sorry, I can’t decide!


What do you think is the most well-landscaped part of Nashville? There are many newly landscaped, new-construction areas, but well-landscaped historic homes with large, established trees do it for me: Whitland and Richland-West End neighborhoods both are beautiful examples.


What’s your go-to place for coffee? I’m out the door by 4:30 a.m. almost every morning; Starbucks is open. After one coffee, I’m a green tea guy the rest of the day.


Where do you like to go to get away? I am a fan of central Mexico in the mountains — not cold in the winter or hot in the summer.


What do you hope never changes about Nashville? The genuine friendly spirit — as long as we keep that, the growth we are experiencing will be sustainable. We have always been a giving and thoughtful town. I hope that never changes.


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