Cultivated horticulture was introduced in what is now the state of West Virginia on March 18, 1774 when George Washington leased 125 acres of land in Berkeley County to William Bartlett for the purpose of establishing apple and peach orchards. In 1786, Jacob Nelly planted 50 acres of apple and peach trees in Hancock County. From this start, he soon made the northern panhandle famous for the production of winter apples. During his lifetime, the orchard industry spread south into the Ohio River area as far as the Kentucky border.

W.S. Miller, who started with 16 acres of orchards in the Eastern Panhandle in 1851, increased his production until the end of the Civil War when his trees numbered 6,500.

In 1900 more than 10,500,000 acres of West Virginia land was devoted to farming. By the start of World War I, the acreage had dropped to a little over 4,300 acres.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, concern was growing for the conservation of trees and plants. Homeowners were becoming more interested in home plantings of a permanent nature (not just summer vegetable and flower gardens) and farmers were becoming more specialized. The times were right for the growth of the infant nursery industry.

West Virginia, a largely rural state with a strong tradition of fruit production, was primarily a fruit tree nursery industry in the earliest years, but flowering shrubs, many of which were native to the state, soon became popular. As the state became more conservation-minded and towns and cities grew, the market for shade trees and evergreen planting grew. Residents who had formerly cut their own Christmas trees now wanted to purchase trees already cut and shaped.

Around the turn of the century, rail freight costs were high and motor transport through much of the state was unimaginable, so most nurseries produced their own bedding plants and liners.

In the late 1930s as West Virginia pulled out from under the effects of the Depression, virtually every home had at least one or two porch boxes and homeowners wanted foundation plantings for at the fronts of their houses. To meet this demand, numerous nurseries sprang up around the state. Some of our state nurseries bought farmland and started West Virginia branches.

In the years preceding World War II, the style of architecture influenced the growth of home landscaping. Homes with high foundations that required large specimens to hide the foundation and visually reduce the height of the home gave way to homes with lower foundations with excavated basements and early ranch type structures. These new lower dwellings called for smaller plants, which would not grow as fast or as large. This called for newer varieties of the dwarf type. With the aid of farsighted plantsmen and horticulture departments of large universities, many new varieties were developed during this time.

The youthful American Nurserymen’s Association and the even younger Southern Nurserymen’s Association were gaining strength and reputations and many states had already formed their own associations when a group of West Virginia nurserymen with the backing and assistance of WVU, the state Agriculture Department and several experienced state professionals banded together to form a state association for West Virginia’s budding nursery industry.

It was at the time of the early growth and new awareness of landscaping that West Virginia Nurserymen’s Association was formed. On July 1, 1939, 26 men contributed $2 each and formed an organization of nurserymen. The first meeting was held in Elkins.

Today, WVNLA offers a wide variety of opportunities to all its members, including a winter conference that engages recognized industry authorities as speakers; professional certification; the opportunity for continuing education credits; nursery and landscape tours; and other events.

We cooperate with and support the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, publish a quarterly newsletter containing timely announcements regarding issues important to our members and contribute to the Horticultural Research Institute. We support West Virginia college students studying horticulture and landscape architecture with scholarship opportunities.

WVNLA members share expertise and support their local communities; meet for volunteer projects; and support worthy, industry-related endeavors through Association donations. 

Regionally, WVNLA co-owns the annual Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show (MANTS) along with the Maryland and Virginia associations. This nationally recognized event showcases and facilitates sales of green industry products. As a co-owner, WVNLA receives funds that directly benefit our members.

Thank you for your interest in WVNLA.