By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ron Jenkins
10 years after starting a nursery/tree farm, Josh and Terra Richards continue to grow in more ways than one
While our shopping list is long — herbs, some shrubs to replace ones killed by the freeze, butterfly-friendly perennials — we’re distracted before we even step inside the nursery.
Colorful koi and turtles catch our eye as we cross a short bridge leading over the man-made pond, complete with a stone waterfall, into Fossil Creek Tree Farm and Nursery’s main building.
We lean over the wood railing slightly to see the turtle and fish better, and they swim up to the surface to stare back at us. After a few minutes of meditative gazing, we head inside, only to be distracted by The Haven, an inviting retail space offering everything from candles to culinary accessories.
It’s obvious why owners Josh and Terra Richards refer to their business as “more than a tree farm.” In addition to 8½ acres of nursery stock, houseplants and, yes, trees, they’ve created a retail experience for those who might otherwise only pop in for a flat of petunias.
And, as they mark the 10th anniversary of Fossil Creek this year, they know they’ve created a community, too.
The Richardses, both Fort Worth natives, also are celebrating 22 years of marriage this month. They have two children and live in Haslet, where Terra tends to the family’s own yard and garden. We hunker down in her small office to talk plants, people and, of course, surviving not only massive road construction but also the pandemic.
“We used to own a marina at Eagle Mountain Lake, which is where Josh grew up,” says Terra. It was a family affair, as Terra ran a photography business from an upstairs office and her parents had a downstairs restaurant. She also used her marketing/finance degree to help run the marina.
In 2011, Josh looked into a chunk of property for sale off Blue Mound Road. “It was a 165-acre tree farm with a landscaping business that consisted of a few greenhouses and a trailer for an office. We couldn’t afford the whole property, so we bought the business portion of their farm.” The Richardses sold the marina, and Josh got busy learning everything he could about soil, irrigation, landscaping and trees. “The best thing I did was hire smart and experienced people,” says Josh.
They reimagined the property with a new building that’s also part greenhouse. In 2013, they added The Haven to the mix, with Terra sourcing women- and family-owned businesses for merchandise. “We test everything, from watering cans to cutting boards to candles.”
That goes for the nursery side of the business, too. “We took the staff on a field trip to Silver Creek [Materials] in north Fort Worth to check out their topsoil and mulch. We handpick our trees from a grower in East Texas,” says Josh.
“We’re learning all the time and, in turn, want to inspire, educate and serve our clients in all we do.”
The Richardses feel the same way about their staff. “We grew from 32 to 45 this past year and were able to keep almost everyone during COVID,” says Josh. They bring in food for their employees every weekend, making sure to support other small local businesses, like Aledo-based Blackberry Winter Creamery, an ice cream truck.
“It’s definitely been a team effort,” says Terra, “and we want to keep them happy and support their development, too.”
The Richardses also found other ways to give back to the community. In May 2020, they hosted a livestreamed benefit concert for employees of The Post at River East, a music/restaurant on Race Street in Fort Worth. They marked the store’s anniversary date this past April by giving away 400 1-gallon trees. And they share their thoughts, hopes and dreams every Friday via Facebook Live to inspire others. They’ve partnered with others for business lunches, as well.
During the height of the pandemic, they turned to fellow retailers — including the owners of Archie’s Gardenland in Fort Worth — for advice. “Being considered an ‘essential’ business made us really examine our jobs,” says Terra.
Josh agrees. “I feel like we’ve gotten better at what we do here. We consider ourselves to be gardening coaches for people. It’s our passion to make sure they are successful at gardening, whether they are buying their first house plant, are an avid vegetable gardener or looking to design a landscape.”
Finding downtime is a challenge, especially during the busy spring season. The couple love live music, especially in small venues, and travel — things that they haven’t been able to indulge in much this past year. One of the inspirations for Fossil
Creek is a garden shop called Terrain in Pennsylvania. “We were on a trip to Philadelphia, and I insisted we make a visit even though it was four hours from the airport,” Terra says.
On their off time, the Richardses frequent restaurants and shops in Fort Worth, but home is where their hearts are. “Josh plays guitar while I garden. I love to sit on the patio in a rocker and take it all in,” says Terra.
But the nursery also can be an escape, especially before clients and staff arrive, says Josh.
“Sometimes I get here early, and the sun is just coming up. Everything looks fresh and green and I think, ‘Wow, we own a tree farm.’ ”