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Nichols brothers' maple nursery on PBS garden show Saturday

EAST FLAT ROCK — Matt and Tim Nichols’ grandmother, Dolly Hill, planted rows and rows of Japanese maples, making her Tabor Road yard explode in a palate of red and green in the spring and red, yellow and orange in the fall.

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“When it started getting bigger, landscapers started offering her money,” Tim Nichols said. “She never really had a nursery. My dad started growing Japanese maples in the 1970s.”
The family’s history of growing maples, from Dolly Hill’s hobby to the grandsons’ collection of 1,200 cultivars, will be featured Saturday morning on “Growing a Greener World,” a nationally distributed PBS show that highlights organic gardening, green living and innovative nurseries like the Nichols brothers’ Mr. Maple. The half-hour show, the second episode in the series’ ninth season, traces the history of the family business. When Tim and Matt’s dad Norman grew maples to sell at the Henderson County Tailgate Market, he did it more as a hobby.
“He didn’t think anybody could do this fulltime,” Tim said. “In the last 15 years my brother and I have taken the business and grown it quite a bit.”
A “Greener World” promo says the episode will highlight how the brothers turned the family’s love of maples into a thriving business, “serving as modern-day maple hunters, always in search of the next great discovery.”
“A lot of the TV show tells about (their father’s) passion for Japanese maples, my grandmother’s love of the maples, us growing up working in the garden,” Tim said. Because their grandmother had two broken hips, a lot of the maple gardening work fell to Tim and Matt.

Maples shipped all over

Landscapers come from all over to the Mr. Maple nursery on Tabor Road.
“We do everything by appointment in our nursery,” he said. “We ship all over the country. We have individuals and a lot of landscapers. We have a lot of individuals who just come by and say, ‘I’m looking for something really unique.’ We’re not the biggest but we actually have the largest selection of Japanese maples in the United States.”
They ship maples in 1- and 3-gallon containers; trees larger than that have to be picked up.
“We ship out hundreds of trees every single week,” he said. “With 1,200 varieties we can do pretty much anything” in terms of color and size. “Some of ours are purple. As for sales, “It’s hard to guess but we graft about 10,000 trees per year. I would say we’re getting close to that in sales.”
Buyers come from all over.
“Right now I’m loading up a truck from Augusta,” Tim said Tuesday afternoon.
The Nichols boys are Johnny Appleseeds of the maple world, touting the beauty of their trees at garden clubs all over North Carolina and the South. Good thing is, the audience is already inclined to like Japanese maples.
“A lot of people hear us talk and we take trees to our talks,” he said. “Japanese maples are kind of hard to turn down.”
It’s the vivid color makes Japanese maples stand out in the world of flora.
“Our climate is actually very similar to Japan,” Tim says. “It cools down at night. It’s an excellent climate for Japanese maples. They’ve been here since early 1900s. Some of the largest Japanese maples in the country grow in our area. The four seasons really help the ones that show the bright red. There’s really nothing that beats them in the spring and fall.”
The brothers have traveled to Japan several times to see their favorite trees in their original habitat and searched other locales for new varieties.
“They told us the reason why we were picked for the story is they heard how passionate we are about it,” Tim said. “We really love the Japanese maples. It’s not just a business. We love being able to do what we love for a living.”

The Japanese maple episode of “Growing a Greener World’ airs at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, on WUNC-TV (Morris Broadband channel 9).