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.

Rhododendron Documents

Rhododendron Revival Research - January 2023

Happy New Year to the Rhododendron Society members from Nanaimo, Cowichan Valley, and Mount Arrowsmith along with members of Milner Gardens & Woodland!

I hope that everyone had a restful holiday season filled with laughter, snow, and holiday treats. I also hope your gardens, no doubt full of curled-up rhododendron leaves, fared ok with all the snow and cold!  I am happy to be back to update you all on how our research is going in the Rhododendron Revival Project through Vancouver Island University in partnership with the Nanaimo Rhododendron Society (NRS) and Milner Gardens & Woodland.

As a recap, our research is focused on figuring out which rhododendron hybrids can be successfully propagated and in this round of cuttings, Denise (Horticulture Coordinator at Milner Gardens) chose R. ‘Beauty of Littleworth’, R. ‘Blue Peter’, and R. ‘Dr.Stocker’. These were chosen because of available plant material and consumer demand, not to mention they are beautiful additions to any garden and hard to find in your typical garden center!

Read the full Rhododendron Revival Research Update - January, 2023

Rhododendron Revival Research - November 2022

Kurstin Rispin, student research assistant, here from Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) Rhododendron Revival Research (RRR) project to update the community on the research progress to date. Many things have happened since our last update, and I am excited to share them with you here. First, I will begin with a brief recap of what has been done thus far. After our wonderful tour of the Greig Rhododendron Species Garden at Milner Gardens with John Deniseger and Chris Southwick in late October, we collected and stuck 96 cuttings from 3 hybrid rhododendrons; R. ‘Beauty of Littleworth’, R. ‘Dr.Stocker’, and R. ‘Blue Peter’.  Afterward, the research cuttings were placed in a mist tent at the VIU G.R. Paine Horticulture Center.  The environmental conditions for the mist tent were set using the American Rhododendron Society (ARS) guidelines for propagation.

Read the full Rhododendron Revival Research Update - November, 2022

Rhododendron Revival Research - October 2022

"My name is Kurstin Rispin and I am currently a Vancouver Island University (VIU) student in the Horticulture Technician Foundation Program. I completed my summer practicum at Milner Gardens & Woodland (Milner Gardens) and continue to work there on weekends this semester. I am a research assistant contributing to the Rhododendron Revival Research (RRR) in partnership with VIU Horticulture, Milner Gardens, and the Nanaimo Rhododendron Society (NRS).

The purpose of this article is to provide a regular update on the progress of the RRR. My role in the research includes monitoring and managing the environmental conditions where the rhododendron cuttings are propagated and tracking cutting progress through daily record-keeping."

Read the full Rhododendron Revival Research Update - October, 2022

Rhododendron Revival Research - March 2022

VIU Horticulture Students preparing Rhodo cuttings at G.R. Paine Centre 2022

VIU Horticulture Students preparing Rhododendron cuttings at the G.R Paine Centre.

The Rhododendron Revival project aims to support the current initiatives under way at Vancouver Island University (VIU) Milner Gardens & Woodland Gardens (Milner Gardens) that sustains rare and endangered Rhododendron species in the Greig Rhododendron Species Garden (Species Garden). Some of the Rhododendron species at Milner Gardens have been growing there since 1960, which is a significant lifespan for a woody shrub.  Over time these rare and unique Rhododendron species have experienced adverse environmental and biological pressures such as drought, winter storms and disease leading to a decline in health. 

Together, horticulture students in the Horticulture Technician Foundation Certificate Program at VIU, Milner Gardens staff and the local Rhododendron Societies work together to share knowledge and experience and contribute to the success of the project.

Goals for this project include to revive the Rhododendron species at risk in the garden through propagation of plants that require replacement and/or population expansion and to identify and propagate Rhododendron species from Milner Gardens that aren’t commonly propagated or are difficult to propagate in commercial production settings.  The project also creates a networking opportunity between the three groups involved and has proven to be valuable in building relationships that continue to strengthen the VIU and wider community.

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.