A fourth generation takes over 130-year-old business

An opera singer and teacher, Elizabeth Kinder is learning on the job while running her family's tree and landscaping business

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 4/8/21

Elizabeth Kinder looks equally at home tending the trees of the Samuel Kinder and Brother nursery on Poppasquash Road as she does performing onstage, an accomplished Mezzo-soprano. “I’m …

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A fourth generation takes over 130-year-old business

An opera singer and teacher, Elizabeth Kinder is learning on the job while running her family's tree and landscaping business

Posted

Elizabeth Kinder looks equally at home tending the trees of the Samuel Kinder and Brother nursery on Poppasquash Road as she does performing onstage, an accomplished Mezzo-soprano. “I’m not an arborist — yet,” she said. But she’s learning quickly.

Her father, Sam Kinder, is well-known in Bristol, having run the family’s 130-year-old landscaping company for decades; he served as Bristol’s Tree Warden for many years as well.

The company was founded in 1890 by Elizabeth’s great-grandfather, and turned over to her grandfather before Sam. A couple of years ago, as he approached age 80, Sam’s health began to decline. At the time, he was still running his company on a day-to-day basis, but it soon became clear that could not go on, and he would need to step back.

“Dad was getting sicker and sicker, and I did not want to see the trees get chopped down and the land sold; I wanted to continue taking this company forward,” said Elizabeth. “So I grabbed my dad’s books and started to read.”

“I jumped on board last summer and just took off; I went through the whole nursery and labeled and inventoried every single tree. And I learned a lot from his longtime employees. I’m definitely still on on the learning side; it’s been wild and fun.”

The nursery has hundreds of varieties of trees. “I can see what my dad loved,” Elizabeth said. “He loved Katsura; we have a lot of those. They’re native to Japan and have a wonderful cotton candy smell. They start off with red leaves that go to glossy green, then bright gold in fall. We have shade trees, ornamentals, evergreens … a lot of variety, a lot to learn.”

The oldest of three (her younger sister is an actress and her brother is a graphic designer) Elizabeth graduated from Portsmouth High School and Connecticut College before getting her master’s at the Boston Conservatory. She has been living in Boston for the last decade, teaching English as a second language and wowing audiences while performing with groups including the Boston Lyric Opera, Providence Singers, MetroWest Opera, Promenade Opera Project, and Odyssey Opera. She and her husband Zura Grdzelishvili are hoping to relocate to the East Bay when their lease in Boston is up in June.

Besides watching her father when she was growing up (“I remember seeing him read all these beautiful blueprints made by landscape architects he worked with”) she is learning the most from her company’s foreman, George Feliciano. “He’s my number one teacher,” she said.

She’s also done a couple of seminars over the winter. “I’m trying to take on as much as I can, between online seminars and lectures. One step at a time, I’m always learning.”

Sam started the nursery in 1986 (before that they would source their trees elsewhere). “Dad wanted his own nursery, and started cycling larger and smaller specimens. We’ve got a few big ones now — I’m hoping the White House will call,” Elizabeth laughed. Larger trees fetch a higher price, but of course transplanting them can be a challenge — though very possible. The company has one client who routinely moves large specimens around big municipal parks up in Boston, some with trunks as large as 22 inches in diameter.

“Almost anything can be successfully transplanted,” she said, citing her client’s 80 percent success rate with even the biggest trees. “With wherewithal and desire, you can really move anything.”

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