Small nursery a big job for couple

Thirty years ago, Spencer and Connie Davis opened Dirty Thumb Nursery on State Highway 6 outside Chehalis, Wash.

“We had been in Orting with two partners,” Connie explains, “but it didn’t produce enough income for two families. Since I was from Lewis County, we found property here and started the nursery.”

When the Davises purchased the property, it was just buildings and fields.

“We had two greenhouses,” Spencer says. “Only one was heated, and that was by a wood stove.”

“Spencer was so confident and determined,” Connie recalls. “I was the scaredy cat. He wasn’t afraid of anything. I knew nothing about plants.”

“It was always the two of us and family,” Connie says. “We raised our daughter here. Every member of our family has been involved, and now we’re into the second and third generation of some of our client families.”

Everything hasn’t always come up roses.

“In the windstorm of 1992-93, we lost a couple greenhouses,” Connie recalls. “Then in the flood of 2007, we lost five greenhouses.”

They just got back on our feet a couple of years ago, she says.

Could they build what they have if they were starting now?

“No way,” Connie asserts. “This was farmland. There are way too many permits required now.”

They consider themselves to be a “mom-and-pop” operation but produce much more than the typical small nursery.

“We have tree lots, a florist shop, gift shop, perennials, shrubs, vegetables, hanging baskets, 500 roses and annuals. That’s not typical,” she says.

Spencer adds, “People can go into every aspect of the business and see it.”

They do all of their transplants and grow all their own product, Connie explains. “We do purchase the trees and shrubs, but all our plants are hand-watered or sprinkled. We’re strictly low-tech.”

They’re open year ’round, and seven days a week April through July or August.

The Davises are full-time, and they hire two part-time seasonal workers.

“I love working with my husband,” Connie says. “He just never stops.”

“We’re thinking of retirement sometime in the next four years,” says Spencer, who will be 70 next year.

He laughs and adds that he’s “looking forward to the golden years.”

He smiles, and says, “An eight-hour day, maybe five days a week, sounds pretty good.”