VIU Milner Gardens and Woodland

Greig Rhododendron Species Garden

Milner Gardens Greig Rhodo Species Garden entrance

The Greig Rhododendron Species Garden opened to the public in April 2018 and is located beyond the Reflecting Pool along the path to the Viewing Platform in Milner Gardens & Woodland.  This garden is a partnership between Vancouver Island University's Milner Gardens & Woodland and the five Vancouver Island chapters of the American Rhododendron Society in Qualicum Beach (Mount Arrowsmith), Nanaimo, Courtenay (North Island), Cowichan Valley, and Victoria, as an education project to show the diversity of the genus Rhododendron. The garden is designed in six global geographic areas: Szechuan, Yunnan, Himalayas, Northeast Asia, Europe and North America. 

The Greig Rhododendron Species Garden was named in honour of Ted and Mary Greig, pioneers in their field, who created many of the early hybrids found in Milner Gardens & Woodland.

"Take a stroll through one of the most unique gardens in Canada!"  - watch this Shaw Spotlight video:  'A Walk Through the Rhodos - The Greig Rhododendron Species Garden'! 

This garden also includes an area to nurture endangered species along with a section to represent plants that are parent to many of the Greig hybrids found in the rest of the garden.  These species represent the original Rhododendrons with  more than 1,000 species in the world. The ancestry of most hybrids can be traced to species Rhododendrons.

The Rhododendron Species Garden has about 230 species Rhododendrons along with companion plants and with plans to add more as they become available.  These species Rhododendrons were sourced from private donors and the Rhododendron Species Foundation in Federal Way, Washington. In all cases, provenance is assured with these species Rhododendrons accessioned to the Milner Gardens & Woodland collection.

Funding for the Greig Rhododendron Species Garden has been provided by Vancouver Island University and the five Vancouver Island Chapters of the American Rhododendron Society along with financial contributions from private donors and grants from the American Rhododendron Society.  The entire project from original design and hardscape, to the clearing and planting is the work of the volunteers and staff from the Rhododendron Societies and the Milner Gardens & Woodland community.

Rhodo blooms Greig Rhododendron Species Garden 2019

Greig Rhododendron Species Garden spring blooms in the above photo (top left clockwise) include: Rhododendron species nova, Rhododendron dauricum f. alba, Rhododendron sutchuenense, Rhododendron irroratum, Rhododendron oreodoxa var. fargesii, Rhododendron barbatum, Rhododendron davidii, and Rhododendron arboreum ssp. cinnamomeum.

The Rhododendron Collection History

Veronica Milner was introduced to rhododendron hybridizers Ted and Mary Greig in 1954 and in the following 15 years planted over 500 rhododendrons which are now the foundation of our woodland Gardens.

Milner Gardens & Woodland received an initial generous grant from the American arm of the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust, an organization based in the United Kingdom that funds projects pertaining to the preservation and development of public gardens. Further donations were also received from the Mount Arrowsmith Rhododendron Society, and the Cowichan Valley Rhododendron Society, along with Jim and Jean Greig. This funding supports our endeavor to identify, label and develop interpretive signage for our rhododendrons, to allow the visiting public to learn more about our unique collection.

Milner Gardens has over 400 rhododendrons currently accessioned, with more than 150 of these unidentified or carrying names from old plant tags that require verification. Many of the old plant tags are illegible or engulfed in the bark of specimens, requiring some sleuth work to ascertain what the label may have read.

We used different methods to tackle the enormous job of finding the lost names of our 'rhodies'.
First, we invited a number of rhododendron experts, from B.C., Washington and Oregon, to visit the Gardens to view our collection and share their expertise. We also have limited historical documentation available to us including a planting map and invoices from the Greig’s Royston Nursery from the 1960’s. These documents give us the advantage of narrowing the potential names available – its easier to choose from 500 possible names than from the thousands of rhododendrons that exist in cultivation today.

The most painstaking but accurate method of identification involves using botanical keys. ‘Keying out’ a specimen requires closely analyzing flower parts and leaves for characteristics such as size and shape, as well as microscopic details like minute hairs and glands. It’s a very detailed, methodical and fascinating process.

Rhododendron Documents