OAKHURST – On Saturday, Jan. 9, Dianna and Jeff Conaway will open the gates, unlock the doors, turn on the lights and get started on their first official day of business as proprietors of Western Sierra Nursery, a plan that has been in the works since September, 2015.
Escrow closed this week on the property, a private sale between parties, and longtime owners Robyn and Mark Holland have turned over the keys. Don’t worry — you’ll still see the Hollands at the nursery. They say they’ll be around enough to make the transition easy for all concerned.
Robyn and Mark have owned Western Sierra Nursery for thirty years, serving the community throughout that time by building not just business but relationships that will span the gap between work and retirement.
Photos by Virginia Lazar. Click on images to enlarge.
Among a lovely jumble of notes that make up the symphony of Western Sierra, Mark’s famous chili has its own fan club. Robyn’s advice on garden, gifts and more is unparalleled. Together they’ve created a space that’s more than a nursery: it’s one of the most pleasing places you can go for miles, which is saying a lot considering we live in the foothills, surrounded by beauty.
Over the years the couple has donated many thousands of dollars to the EMC SPCA through their efforts, and those who know the operation well will be glad to hear the three en-suite cats are staying put.
Robyn and Mark have purchased a fifth wheel, and they plan on traveling the coast, and maybe someday the country. For starters, they’ll head to Lupine at Bass Lake, or maybe just camp in their own front yard. They’ll be missed at the nursery but, the point is, now they have some choices.
Meanwhile, back on Golden Oak Drive where the nursery has been located for most of its life, the Conaways are now on duty: experienced, excited and eager to launch their dream together. Jeff retired a year ago after 36 years in the beverage industry, handling everything from sales to safety, 28 of those years for Pepsi. That’s where he met Dianna, whose has now re-directed Northern California sales manager career to mountain nursery-owner. The Conaways first bought five acres here in 2003, then moved from Hanford almost four years ago.
Married 17 years, the Conaways have transformed four houses together, gardening and building their way through it all, and now they’re taking their personal hobbies to a professional level.
They’ve worked together on turning modest landscapes into little slices of heaven, with the labor balancing between Dianna, for the soft-scape greenery, and Jeff, in the hardscape department, building gates, arbors, a pond, a bridge, and you get the idea. Dianna jokes that she couldn’t have been successful in the garden without the one DIY store’s money-back guarantee — her initial process, long ago, was one of trial and error. Take heart: whatever shade of green your thumb is, the Conaways are determined to help make your garden dreams come true.
Robyn and Mark may hit the road but they’ll be back to give seasonal help as the Earth turns. For instance, at the end of January, Robyn and Dianna are heading to a trade show together. What happens in Vegas gets shipped back to Oakhurst, so shoppers should have a lot to look forward to at Western Sierra this spring.
All the existing Western Sierra crew is staying on, regulars will be pleased to hear, and the only kinds of changes being made in the near future are basic improvements, Jeff says. They’ll still be hosting events in support of the EMC SPCA and plan to include some children’s nonprofits in their scope of charity, as well. The Conaways are parents to three grown daughters: Taylor, 23, is at UC Irvine. Heather and Nicole, both in their thirties, live in Visalia and New York.
Children’s causes are particularly close to the heart for Dianna and Jeff, who lost son Brandon, 18, in a September 2012 accident, not long after he graduated from high school. Brandon loved kids and is never far from their thoughts, say the Conaways, who plan to honor his memory by adding the local Boys and Girls Club to the list of organizations they strongly support. They are also the grandparents to five children. For many reasons, gardening is important to Dianna. Summarizing it in a simple statement so many will relate to, she says simply, “Gardening is therapy.”
The Conaways are not the only family members who’ve noticed how nice it is to live in the foothills. Since Dianna and Jeff relocated, so have her mom and dad, Barbara and John Dowling. They’ve also lured aunt and uncle Geni and Perry Mesquit to the mountains. Dianna’s sister is on the way, and others are probably moving but just don’t know it yet.
So, what’s it going to be like running their own nursery after having worked in the corporate world?
“It’s like riding a bike,” says Dianna, “just a different bike.”
Their jobs as sales managers were always to help customers succeed, and they know the value of good vendors, so their expectations are positive as they take over the shop.
400 bare root trees are coming in, says Dianna, and there’s a list of everything available at the counter. Everyone is excited and happy. Stop by Western Sierra and say hello, and welcome your new neighbors.