By Amy Wenk
Chris Hastings has preserved the family tree in more ways than one.
As a fourth-generation horticulturist, he has followed in his family’s footsteps.
As owner and operator of the tree-and-shrub-care company ArborMedics, he has worked to save neighborhood forests for future generations.
And as a passionate volunteer, he has become caretaker of the Buckhead trees his mother once tended.
“We underestimate how meaningful trees can be in our lives and in our surroundings,” said Hastings, who was born in 1971.
The native Atlantan’s family shaped the retail plant industry in the Southeast, beginning in the late 1880s when his great-grandfather H.G. Hastings noticed that people were buying a magazine he delivered in northern Florida just so they could get the free seed packets that came with a subscription.
Spotting an opportunity, the 17-year-old started a mail-order seed business and soon relocated to Atlanta.
The H.G. Hastings Seed Co. “grew and grew and grew until it was just this wonderful catalog seed business,” Hastings said. “It became a real institution in the South” and peaked with a subscriber list of about 650,000 people.
His grandfather Donald Hastings Sr. continued the business. But when his father, Donald Hastings Jr., graduated from Cornell University in 1950, his first assignment was to fly to Oregon to investigate a new phenomenon: the retail nursery business.
After he returned, the family opened the Hastings retail nursery on Cheshire Bridge Road.
“It was the first one in the entire Southeast,” Hastings said. “Prior to that, you could not go somewhere and buy a plant.”
The business was a success until a recession in the 1970s. “They ended up going out of business and basically selling off the nursery in ’76,” Hastings said. The new owners got to keep the Hastings name.
Hastings Nature & Garden Center operates today on Peachtree Road in Brookhaven.
“When I came up through the ranks, there was no family business anymore, so I had to go find myself a job,” Hastings said with a chuckle.
After graduating from Cornell with a master’s in horticulture, he worked for a national tree company. “I was just shocked at some of the things that I saw going on,” he said. “It’s a huge removal market. There’s more money in cutting trees down than caring for them, so people go that route.
“One of the saddest things is the majority of certified arborists … work for tree removal companies as salesmen. There is a huge ethical issue there.”
In 2003, Hastings opened ArborMedics with the prime mission of tree preservation. Today, he leads a team of arborists dedicated to extending the lives of trees and shrubs through pruning, fertilization, insect and disease control, cabling, root collar excavations, and lightning protection.
“In all of metro Atlanta, there’s only about five companies that even claim to do tree care as one of their main missions,” said Hastings, Georgia’s first board-certified master arborist. “But if you go through the Yellow Pages and look under tree services, you will find over 150 companies that cut trees down. I don’t even do big tree removals.”
Although raised in Roswell, Hastings spent much of his childhood in Buckhead.
The family attended the Cathedral of St. Philip on Peachtree Road, and he and his brother went to The Lovett School, where their mother was a teacher.
When he was about 5, his mother introduced him to the median parks on Peachtree Battle Avenue. She was a member of the Habersham Garden Club, which has cared for the memorial garden between Nacoochee and Habersham roads since 1932.
“One of the things she would do every year is take me by to play in the leaves of the gingko trees” at the entrance of Peachtree Battle Avenue off Peachtree Road, he said. “We’ve had lots of fun with the gingkoes over the years.”
Gingko trees turn a brilliant yellow in the fall, Hastings said, and drop all their leaves in a very short time, creating a giant pile of fun for the young.
Such fond memories inspired him to volunteer in 2003 as caretaker for the now-62-year-old trees.
“I adopted them and prune them as needed,” he said. “I fertilize them every year and make sure they are healthy. We also police them because the power company comes through there and has harmed one of the trees in the past.”
He holds Earth Day presentations at the gingko trees for E. Rivers Elementary School students.
Now he looks forward to sharing the trees with his 5- and 6-year-old sons. “They are just about ready to rake up a pile of gingko leaves,” he said. “I’ll probably bring them down this year and let them follow in my footsteps a little bit. They are tree climbers in the making.”