Bruno Lanscape & Nursery
Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: M.Kat Photography
The Bruno Team (from left to right)
Steven Bruno, Gary Bruno, Curtis Cornelius and Mark Nizolek
There is a perennial gardener’s adage that goes, “First year they sleep; second year they creep; third year they leap.” Unlike planting trees, where strength and viability is determined by branches, bark, and blossoms, a perennial’s vitality must be determined by its root system. As a perennial dies back to the ground each year, its roots are constantly strengthening and growing underground; and the gardener may be encouraged by the new flora that will be larger and more beautiful than the previous year. Sleep-creep-leap is a reminder that these plants will come into their own, in their own time.
Gary and Mary Ann Bruno know a great deal about allowing things to come into their own, in their own time. The owners of Bruno Landscape and Nursery on Hilton Head Island opened their landscape maintenance business in 1989, rolling coins to purchase their first truck, with a baby on the way and a belief in their ability to be the best at what they do. As the business grew, so did the family; and now the two have merged into a thriving, collaborative business built on the strength of each member of the family, whether Aunt Beth Nizolek working in the nursery, or a grandmother doing some filing. Daughters Nikki Bruno and Jenna Hull, and son Steven Bruno, have each joined the company and found their niches as well. “It really is a great family business,” Mary Ann Bruno said. “We make room for everybody, because everybody has their own talents. Jenna has really jumped into the accounting and advertising, and our son has followed Gary.”
A recent Clemson graduate, Steven is working alongside his dad in the construction division. With a degree in horticulture, he brings another set of resources to the business and to their customers. He is out in the field meeting clients, working on quoting projects, and doing some of the drawings, said Hull, who has found her niche as office manager, working closely with Mary Ann.
Growing the business at a pace that made sense, their first decade was spent establishing the landscape maintenance division, headed up by Mary Ann’s brother-in-law Mark Nizolek. Some crew members have been with Bruno for 16 years, providing customers a high degree of consistency and service. “We pride ourselves on doing the best we can for each client,” Hull said.
“Every project Gary, Steven or Mark, go out on, it’s like they’re looking at it through the homeowner’s eyes,” Mary Ann said. Putting themselves in the customers’ shoes has made for long-term relationships. “We would rather keep the same customers and the same employees, and keep them all happy.”
In 2000, the family acquired four acres on Dillon Road, and the nursery was added to the landscaping business. It made sense to grow in a direction that would provide the burgeoning maintenance and construction divisions with better quality and fresher plant materials, along with a retail outlet for customers to buy plant and garden materials for do-it-yourself projects. Gary and Mary Ann’s youngest, Nikki Bruno has found her calling there.
“I worked in the office and did accounting for a couple of years, but I really did not like sitting at a desk and being indoors. I love being outside,” Nikki said. “I didn’t know much about plants, so each day I took home three plants and learned everything about them. I’m still learning every day, and my dad and my brother teach me new stuff every day too.”
Plants and pots on parade in the quaint garden shop
Once a place where crews and trucks and trailers rolled off the property to do their work, Bruno Landscape and Nursery now is also a charming, well-stocked, haven for garden lovers—amateur to expert. Nikki and team members Curtis Cornelius and Sherry Brun have seen to that with tidy row upon tidy row of their ample inventory of plants displayed on raised tables—much easier for seeing, selecting, and lifting—covered shelters where pottery and garden accessories are well protected and accessible, and a cottagey wooden shed fitted with everything else a gardener may need. The nursery has played host to several club events and even a book reading. Practically perfect in every way, the effect is enchanting.
“There are a lot of do-it-yourself people here,” Mary Ann said. “We’re finding a lot of people like to come in and get ideas. Nikki and Curtis are great with that. Customers will bring their iPads with pictures, and then they will purchase the plants. They’re saving money, getting quality fresh plants and learning how to take care of them.” There is always someone knowledgeable in the nursery helping customers.
“We’re heading into fall, our favorite season,” Nikki said. “This is the fun season for us. The weather is changing and people are shifting from flowers and annuals to perennials that will make it through the winter.” Getting into the autumnal spirit, the nursery is stocked with terra cotta and ceramic statuary and pumpkins, which the team has creatively used in displays intended to inspire.
Last fall, Mary Ann brought in Talavera pottery pumpkins, which sold out by the end of September. The traditional maiolica earthenware pieces are hand-thrown with a creamy crazed glaze over the brightly colored natural pigment designs. She upped the order this year, but they are still likely to disappear quicker than candy on Halloween night. Hewn from North Carolina timber, the nursery also sells beautifully made wood benches, inspired by a bench Gary designed and made for Jenna’s wedding.
Gary and Mary Ann literally deliver the Christmas spirit to the nursery, personally selecting and driving fresh cut Christmas trees from North Carolina. “We go and look at the lots and choose the trees—how many and what sizes. We bring our trailer on a Friday night, they load it on Saturday, and by Sunday the trees are in the nursery in individual buckets of water,” Mary Ann said. “We do take special tree requests, and we also do roping and wreaths. Everything is so fresh.”
The Bruno family members have certainly found their niches, where individuality is celebrated and encouraged to sleep, creep, and then leap, and come into its own, in its own time, much like the business itself. “If you call here, chances are you’ll get a family member,” Mary Ann said. “Tuesday nights, my mom makes dinner and there are four generations at the table.” The roots are strong here, fertilized with family, fun, a little dirt under the fingernails, and plenty of love.
Please visit Bruno Landscape and Nursery at 109 Dillon Road, Hilton Head Island. Hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m., and Saturdays 9 a.m.–3 p.m. Gift certificates are available in the nursery, and Wednesday is Senior Gardener Day when everything is 10 percent off. For more information, please call the nursery at (843) 682-2624, the office at (843) 681-7022, or visit brunolandscapeandnursery.com.