The recession has wiped out Fox and Barbara McCarthy in a good way. Fox McCarthy, former water conservation coordinator for the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority, and his wife Barbara, a former Rockdale County Commissioner, recently sold 682 Japanese maple trees — every Japanese maple tree they had at their Fox Hollow Nursery located in Rockdale. For the McCarthys, the big sale is a welcomed relief during a recession that has dried up plenty of businesses like theirs.
McCarthy said retired Auburn University Football Coach Pat Dye bought the trees for a nursery that he has started on 750 acres just outside Auburn, Ala. Dye visited the McCarthys’ Fox Hollow Nursery and soaked up as much knowledge as he could about growing Japanese maples. Then he cleared out the McCarthys’ nursery, purchasing all of the trees. McCarthy said it will take about four months to ship the maples to Dye.
"Pat Dye came out to see my techniques and told me if I gave him a good deal, he would buy the trees," said McCarthy.
McCarthy and Dye worked out a deal and Dye bought 682 Japanese maples, wiping out the nursery. A single Japanese maple tree’s average retail price is $800. The contract was the largest single sale the Fox Hollow Nursery has made since the McCarthys opened the business 18 years ago.
At the age of 55, McCarthy, now 76, went back to school to obtain a horticulture degree.
A school assignment dealing with Japanese maples inspired McCarthy to start the nursery. He bought a tract of land and in 1991 started the nursery, planting some 300 Japanese maple trees.
"I’ve always liked the Japanese Maple; it’s a slow growing tree," said McCarthy.
While there are over 40 variations of the tree, most people are fond of the dwarfed ones, which are sometimes used as bonsais. The tree comes in bright shades of colors such as green, purple, pink, orange and red. Most varieties are very slow growing and rarely get over 10 feet tall, but can grow up to 25 feet. A Japanese maple can be between 10 and 19 years of age before reaching full maturity. Tiny shrub Japanese Maples can be purchased just after two years. Depending on the size, the trees can cost $400 to $1,700 each.
"Growing time for every tree is based on the customer’s patience or what their needs are," said Barbara. McCarthy. "Some landscape architects request smaller trees depending on the project."
For 10 years, McCarthy worked as the water conservation coordinator for the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority and everyday he would come home and tend to the nursery. Barbara McCarthy, who served as Rockdale County Commissioner, would help him.
"We are very supportive of one another. Whatever the other person wants to do, we support one another," said Fox McCarthy.
In 1999, Fox McCarthy retired and was about to begin heavy marketing of the nursery’s maturing Japanese Maples when the sudden news of his wife being diagnosed with breast cancer brought the business to a halt.
"After Barbara got diagnosed with breast cancer I had to put down the nursery. I had to take care of my wife. After two years, Barbara was well again."
The McCarthys sold their first trees (about 40 trees) in 2003. For the next several years, they sold between 100 to 200 trees a year to mostly referral landscape architects. In 2007, the drought weakened nursery sales and the economic climate of 2008 dried up tree sales even more.
"It felt good to sell all those trees. The green industry, the contractors, and the retailers have all taken a beating. The bad economy has really hit them hard. I’ve been doing this for 18 years and don’t see the market returning anytime soon."
Fox McCarthy said the nursery will remain open, but he is now going to work on gardening and growing other types of plants.
"Now I can fish in my lake a little more, work on gardening, read and goof off…at the golf course. It also gives me and my wife the opportunity to travel," he said.