Bartlett Nursery tempts green thumbs and novices to buy, plant, grow

Bartlett Nursery has been in its current location for 25 years now. Photo by Carolyn Bahm.
Bartlett Nursery has been in its current location for 25 years now. Photo by Carolyn Bahm.

For a quarter of a century, Bartlett Nursery has been helping families, businesses and contractors find the right azaleas, stock up on flats of annuals, enrich their soil, plan landscapes with pleasing year-round designs, and maintain the yards and gardens that grace their properties.

Bartlett Nursery is a family-owned, family-run business, and Conroy Barber is the patriarch of the family. His son, Con Lee Barber, launched the enterprise in West Memphis before moving to Bartlett, where it’s thrived for the past 25 years. Barber with his wife, Juanell, partners with their son, daughter and son-in-law in the enterprise.

The business includes a 20-acre nursery. Services include landscape design and installation, irrigation design and installation, outdoor accent lighting, drainage work (including French drains and natural swales), maintenance, tree planting, sodding and seeding, and installation of stone walkways, paths, borders and patios.

Bartlett Nursery keeps all its plants watered, fertilized and ready to be planted with well-developed root systems and pest control. Barber noted that customers who go plant shopping at big box stores have to be cautious in finding healthy, undamaged plants that have received adequate care.

The Barber family members are proud of the business they built, serving the Mid-South's gardening and landscape needs. Photo by Carolyn Bahm.
The Barber family members are proud of the business they built, serving the Mid-South’s gardening and landscape needs. Photo by Carolyn Bahm.

The Barber family advises customers on when to plant and how to nourish their gardens, and the advice is specific to the region. “Gardens have to be done the right way,” Barber said. “A lot of folks want to garden, but they try to get on the Internet and figure out what’s what.”

The biggest thing that customers want is low maintenance, he said. Expert local advice can help there.

“We try to prepare hundreds of plants so the people can have a variety when they come in,” Barber said. “And we’re always happy to help people. If they’ll come in with their measurements and pictures of their yard or of certain areas of the house, we will take time and help them, show them what goes with the sun and the shade.”

Bartlett Nursery offers free estimates. They will come to a home, take photos and measurements, recommend plants for different areas of the property and explain how to care for them. Recommendations vary according to the customer’s needs, such as designing gardens that emphasize scents or that attract butterflies and birds.

Helping people is his favorite part of the job, Barber said. He grew up on a farm in Independence County, Arkansas, so gardening is in his blood. He loves listening to customers and helping them take joy in the plants they grow.

Conroy Barber enjoys tending to the young plants in Bartlett Nursery's hothouse. Photo by Carolyn Bahm.
Conroy Barber enjoys tending to the young plants in Bartlett Nursery’s hothouse. Photo by Carolyn Bahm.

When asked if he and the other family members all have green thumbs, he chuckled. “I like to garden, I’ll put it that way. That’s my hobby, raising vegetables and things of that nature. I had my first radishes last night for dinner.”

Right now people are buying tomatoes and annuals, he said. The business also sells quite a bit of shrubbery, holly, Japanese maples, apple and peach and plum trees, small fruits like berries and raspberries, muscadines and grapes. Their number-one bestseller, however, is Fashion azaleas with their orange-red tone that appeals to University of Tennessee fans.

In the past couple of years, he’s also seen strong local interest in raised-bed vegetable gardening. From tomatoes, pepper, carrots and kale to companion plants like marigolds, local gardeners like to stock up on a good variety.

Meanwhile, Bartlett Nursery supports gardening at all scales. “We have customers buy 30 tomato plants — that’s a pretty good patch of tomatoes — and then we have people that just buy the onesies and twosies,” Barber said.

Some of the larger projects Barber is proud of include the irrigation, landscaping, sodding and more for the new Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital; a project on the Navy base in Millington several years ago; work on 11-12 acres plus a track for a Memphis school on Pennsylvania Avenue; and irrigation, sodding and plants for a 19-acre cypress park.

They also do residential work that may range from $1,000 to $20,000 or more, he said.

“We’re not the cheapest, and we’re not the most expensive, but good work’s not cheap, and cheap work’s not good.”

A lot of their gardening advice starts with improving the soil for planting. Bartlett Nursery accepts donated leaves for its compost pile, which generates excellent soil from the rotting leaves. Barber is particularly proud of the rich black soil mix he designed and the business sells, complete with worm castings, leaf rot and peat moss.

Much of the local soil has plenty of clay in it and needs amending for it to drain well, Barber said. A big challenge is getting excess water away from the roots of the plants.

It’s also important to take away debris when sodding instead of tilling it into the dirt and letting it rot, and Barber said not every company takes this extra step. He explained that decaying matter consumes nitrogen in the soil and damages root systems. You can’t overlook careful soil work.

“That’s the key to all of it, preparing the soil well and getting it ready,” Barber said. He compared it to building a skyscraper. “You never see it for a while ’til it comes out of the ground. Gotta build that foundation.”

CAROLYN BAHM is the editor of The Bartlett Express. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to