A Brief History of Hicks Nurseries, Inc.
The Hicks family started farming on Long Island as early as the late 1600s, but it was in 1853 that the business currently called Hicks Nurseries, Inc., had its beginnings. That was when Isaac Hicks began selling trees to his neighbors. He named his new company Isaac Hicks and Son.
Since those first sales, Hicks Nurseries has maintained its reputation for providing carefully selected first-quality plant material. Each succeeding generation of the business has left its stamp on the nursery responding to the horticultural needs of the Long Island community at the time.
At the turn of the 19th century, Isaac’s son Edward, who taught at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, invented and patented the equipment and designed the techniques for moving big trees desired by Long Island’s new estate owners. Full grown trees – sometimes in full leaf – were carefully extracted from the earth and taken primarily to the Gold Coast mansions, where many still flourish today.
Edward’s son Henry was a premier botanist. After receiving his degree from the New York State College of Agriculture at Cornell in 1892, Henry returned to Westbury; he specialized in studying the suitability of new plants from Europe and Asia for the Long Island environment. Henry maintained a wide correspondence with the leading horticulturists of the day. One such correspondent was the chief plant explorer for the US Department of Agriculture, Frank Meyers, who roamed the earth looking for new plants. Whenever he came upon a new plant, he sent three back the US. One went to the USDA in Beltsville, Maryland; one went to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston; and one went to Henry Hicks in Westbury. Cross breeding plants from different parts of the world was Henry’s forte, the best known of which is the Hicks Yew (Taxus media hicksii).
Henry’s sons, William and Edwin Hicks, together with Edwin Costich, a horticulturist and nursery manager, kept the business on an even keel during the Depression years. In an innovative move, around 1930, William made pre-dug plants available for customers. This marked the beginning of the walk-in, cash customer business that developed into what is now called a retail garden center.
Tragedy hit the family and the business in 1944 when William Hicks died in Luxembourg during the Battle of the Bulge. Henry Hicks remained president of the company until his death in 1954. At that time, Edwin Costich, who had been general manager of the company, became the president and remained so until 1967. Although Edwin Hicks’ primary responsibility was as President of Hicks Westbury, Inc., the family’s coal and fuel oil business, he was still very involved in the policies and plans for Hicks Nurseries.
In 1963, Alfred (Fred) Hicks, Edwin’s son, came home from Cornell University with degrees in agriculture and business administration. With Long Island’s growth from a rural to a suburban community complete, Fred saw the need to re-focus the business to keep pace with the new Long Islanders; at that time there were still 245 acres of nursery production. Fred kept the best of what was already established and began the conversion of the nursery to a thriving family-oriented retailing and growing operation that today serves hundreds of thousands of people each year.
Fred was a major player in the horticultural industry. He was a respected and honored leader nationally, serving as president of the American Nursery and Landscape Association, which inducted him into their Hall of Fame in 2003. He was also president of Garden Centers of America and the Long Island Nurserymen’s Association and he chaired International Garden Center congresses. Locally, he was involved in the life of Long Island. He chaired the Environmental Commission of the Village of Westbury, served on the board of Westbury Friends School, and was an advisor to the board of Old Westbury Gardens. He was president of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County and was also chair of the board of Winthrop-University Hospital.
In 1991, Fred launched Hicks Nurseries’ first ten-day Spring Flower and Garden Show, which has become an annual event featuring indoor gardens in full bloom and seminars by outstanding specialists to give gardeners ideas on what they can do in their home landscapes. This event attracts more than 80,000 visitors each year.
Continually updating and modernizing the operation has always been a part of the success of Hicks Nurseries and Fred made many significant improvements over the years, including building the first retail greenhouses in the 1970s and replacing them in the late 1990s and early 2000s with modern, innovative new greenhouses.
In 2003, the nursery marked its 150th anniversary. Current staff and many former employees and their families celebrated with a summer barbecue reunion.
Sadly, Fred Hicks died in October of 2004. Stephen Hicks, Fred’s son, became president and took over the running of the nursery. Stephen has a BS from Cornell University and an MBA from New York University. Also actively involved in the administration of the business is Karen Hicks Courts, Fred’s daughter. Karen holds a BA in Management from Gettysburg College. Stephen and Karen are the sixth generation in the family business.
Keeping with the family tradition of putting his own stamp on the nursery, Stephen has a 21st century vision for the business. He spearheaded the addition of the Gardener’s Café in 2004 and has worked hard to ensure the appropriate organizational backbone for the company as it grows. He also launched a commercial sales division in 2008 to better serve horticultural professionals.
The year at Hicks Nurseries is punctuated by special events that are especially anticipated by our customers. In addition to the annual ten day Spring Flower and Garden Show in March, there are two seasonal animated shows for children that are eagerly anticipated. In the fall, Otto the Ghost appears. Otto is a charming, child-friendly little character who likes to help solve problems. There are hayrides, farm animals to feed, fresh roasted corn, candied and fudge apples, all making the nursery a festive family fall destination. The Christmas show with Santa, Mrs. Claus and lots of elves and animals opens at Thanksgiving. There’s a mail slot where children can deposit letters to Santa; all letters are answered with a handwritten note from Santa.
Hicks Nurseries is known for personal service, a friendly and knowledgeable staff and a complete selection of high quality plants and horticultural products. The nursery and the Hicks family are committed to the progress of Long Island and to helping gardeners and landscape professionals alike to be more successful.