Jessica Robertson has a green thumb, especially when it comes to orchids. Her family owns and operates Backbone Valley Nursery at 4201 FM 1980 in Marble Falls, where she tends to the orchids in 'Jessica’s Green Haus.' Staff photo by David Bean
Life was peachy for Jessica Robertson, at least, that’s how she remembers growing up in Central Texas peach orchards and watermelon fields. Her grandfather Simon Burg started the peach industry in the Fredericksburg area. Her grandmother Anita Burg was an all-around plant fanatic. Her father was a farmer.
Always involved in horticulture, her interest in orchids took root after graduating from high school.
“When I was in college, I adopted an orchid out of the horticulture greenhouse at Texas State (University) because it was kind of neglected and no one there knew how to take care of it,” Robertson said. “I actually took this orchid to a meeting in Austin for the Heart of Texas Orchid Society and kind of fell in love with them from there.”
Her passionate pursuit of orchids extended to the family-owned business into which she married: Backbone Valley Nursery, 4201 FM 1980 in Marble Falls. When the nursery built a greenhouse, it was dubbed “Jessica’s Green Haus.” A portion of it was devoted to orchids. At first, the collection numbered in the dozens. That later grew into the hundreds.
“I don’t know the total count I had or how many are actually in there,” Robertson said. “I’ve always enjoyed orchids, and I’d play in the orchid greenhouse all day long if I could.”
You could say pursuit of horticulture as a career led to the blossoming of more than flowers. She was working with a cousin in Fredericksburg researching the microbiology associated with oak wilt when, one day, Ben Robertson, whose family sold trees wholesale at the time, delivered 10 crepe myrtles from Marble Falls. He left the trees but not an invoice. This caught her attention.
“In the early days,Backbone Valley Nursery was a wholesale tree farm operated out of a cigar box,” she said. “That was the cash register.”
She eventually went to work with the Robertson family, and when she married Ben, became part of the business as it grew into a retail nursery.
“The business ended up getting a real cash register one day,” Robertson said. “I think my father-in-law had a heart attack when my husband got a credit card machine. Then, he really had a heart attack when I bought a point-of-sale system. It has really grown from a tiny little growing-acorns-out-of-a-bucket tree farm to what it is today.”
While Robertson still tends the Backbone Valley Nursery orchids, she now works full time with Greenleaf Nursery Company as a sales representative for Central Texas.
“It was a good way as a woman to go out and diversify myself and make a name for myself outside of my family business in our little hometown,” she said. “I get to go visit other garden centers and see what they do and how they do things, and it’s always helpful to have somebody that’s on the other side of the table that was in their shoes as a buyer.”
Backbone Valley is still her family business, she said. It’s where her heart will always be.
“They’re my customer now, too,” she said. “That is kind of a plus. I’m selling plants across the dinner table sometimes.”
At home, she tries to impart her horticultural interests to her three sons.
“They probably think of it a little bit more like chores than fun because I enlist them a lot to help me in the garden,” she said. “But I’d like to think that things like that are instilled in you at a young age. Maybe they’ll have a garden of their own.”