Signal Mountain Nursery marks 70 years with special event

A field of lilies bloom at Parry Nursery — now Signal Mountain Nursery — which is celebrating its 70th anniversary Saturday, March 11.
A field of lilies bloom at Parry Nursery — now Signal Mountain Nursery — which is celebrating its 70th anniversary Saturday, March 11.

Anniversary lineup

The anniversary celebration March 11 begins with a fairy garden workshop with Celia Mattingly at 10 a.m., followed by a Turf grass seminar with Mark Bonastia at 11 a.m. Barbie Baldwin, who grows the nursery’s perennials, is holding a daylily and peony workshop at 1 p.m., and Kim Bonastia is leading a seminar on container gardens at 2 p.m. More seminars and giveaways will go on throughout the free event, and history of the nursery will be on display.Signal Mountain Nursery is at 1100 Hubbard Road and can be reached at 886-3174, or visit

photo An old brochure for Parry Nursery features a drawing of founder Arthur "Scotty" Parry, grandfather of current Signal Mountain Nursery owner Kim Bonastia.

Signal Mountain Nursery is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, and the community is invited to participate in the festivities Saturday, March 11. The nursery is hosting several workshops and drawings for giveaways throughout the day, as well as providing free lunch and cake from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"This is our way of showing our appreciation to the community for supporting us for 20 years," said Kim Bonastia, who owns the nursery along with her husband Mark. "In a city full of startups, 70 years is pretty good!"

The business was founded by her grandmother, Ben Addie Coleman, and grandfather, Arthur "Scotty" Parry. They met on a steamer returning to the U.S. from England, where Ben Coleman, who then worked with orchids, had been traveling on business.

The couple, both plant-lovers, married in the 1940s and decided to launch a new nursery focusing on peonies, Parry Nursery. Ben fell in love with Signal Mountain, which had a moderate growing environment, and the couple felt it would be the ideal location for their budding business.

The nursery was going well until their stock of peonies was devastated by an infestation of nematodes, a microscopic, slender worm. The Parrys then switched to daylilies, growing 15 acres of the hardy perennial. Gradually, they branched into growing liriope, hostas and some native perennials.

As the Parrys got older, their daughter, Laurel Parry Steele, and her husband, David Steele, began taking on more responsibility at the nursery. The Steeles drove up the mountain from their home in Georgia as often as possible, making every effort to help the business. Eventually they decided the trek was too far and moved their family to Signal Mountain and renamed the family business Signal Mountain Nursery.

The Steeles started selling azaleas, pieris and rhododendron, both wholesale and retail, and over the years, they started growing more annuals and perennials.

Their daughter and her husband, Kim and Mark Bonastia, have since taken over, and are having fun taking all the great things her parents did and adding their own spin on it, Kim said.

"Signal Mountain Nursery grows all its annuals, from geraniums that are out of this world to all the 'thrillers, fillers and spillers' one might need to make a gorgeous arrangement for your patio," she said. "We also grow a wide array of perennials, including heuchera, daylily, hostas and new and unusual varieties."

Changes she and her husband have made include the addition of classes and workshops on topics relating to plants, landscaping and gardening.

"We are always looking for new ways to help us grow and give our customers an experience that they will never forget," Kim Bonastia said. "Many customers tell us the experience of coming into the nursery is like stepping into a botanical garden. They always tell us 'This is my happy place.'"

Time will tell whether their two children, ages 12 and 14, will one day take over the nursery's operations, though they often help out with the business, she said.

Aside from growing its own plants, Signal Mountain Nursery also boasts its own lawn maintenance and landscaping divisions, and stands out from competition not just in its varied offerings, but also in its level of customer service, Kim Bonastia said.

"We love to help the customer in whatever way we can," she said. "We have a very educated staff here, with some employees working for us for over 30 years."

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