Milner Gardens

Partnership with VIU / Milner Gardens & Woodland

MARS is proud to support Milner Gardens & Woodland by donating plants and providing volunteer labour for maintenance and development of the Greig Rhododendron Species Garden.

Intrepid MARS volunteers tackle everything from fence construction, to spreading several tons of mulch, to planting rhododendrons and companion plants, to constructing shade-cloth shields to protect newly-planted rhodos.

The Species Garden is the result of many years of planning and work through a unique partnership of Vancouver Island University, Milner Gardens and the members of all the American Rhododendron Society chapters on Vancouver Island.

From the Milner Gardens & Woodland e-newsletter issued on March 23, 2018:  “The goal of the proposed garden would be to highlight the tremendous diversity found within the genus-Rhododendron, including some of the unique and rare species that are threatened in the wild, and representative species from key regions where they are found naturally, and in some cases, are endangered.  As most of the historic rhododendrons at Milner Gardens & Woodland are hybrids, the species garden would also highlight many of the parent species of these historic rhododendrons.

The project originated with an idea at the opening of Milner Gardens in 1998 and moved forward in 2008 only to be stalled by an economic downturn. Then in 2013 it took on new life when the Vancouver Island ARS chapters agreed to work together with the two other key partners. On Sunday, April 22, 2018, more than 150 plant enthusiasts gathered to celebrate this memorable achievement.

The Greig Rhododendron Species Garden is named after Ted and Mary Greig, recipients of the ARS Gold Medal.  Mary Greig of Royston on Vancouver Island was a pioneer hybridizer and propagator of rhododendrons, and many of her plant progeny thrive in Milner Gardens to this day.  The Garden was officially opened to the public with a ribbon-cutting by Jean Greig, the late Jim Greig’s wife:


Special guests at the opening  included VIU President Dr. Ralph Nilson, Chief Michael Recalma of the Qualicum First Nation, Geoff Ball, Executive Director of Milner and descendants of Ted and Mary Greig for whom the garden is named.

More about the Greig Rhododendron Species Garden

While the Species Garden is intended to offer the public a chance to enjoy the beauty and diversity of rhododendrons, the Garden’s importance is more than skin deep.  It will also provide propagation sources for rare species, and help conserve rhododendron species that are endangered in the wild.

The Species Garden is located in a 0.25 ha (0.63 acres) area of Milner Gardens that was formerly forest.  Jim Cadwaladr, a retired Landscape Architect, donated his time and expertise to develop the design.  Much thought was given to which native trees would remain.  All trees were inventoried and a case was made for each tree, providing a variety of majestic old-growth trees, a nurse log, and some dead trees to provide habitat for birds and small animals.

The garden design features rhododendrons arranged according to six geographic regions, as well as two additional planting categories:

  • North America
  • Northeast Asia
  • Yunnan
  • Himalayas
  • Sichuan
  • Europe (Southern Europe and the Middle East)
  • Vulnerable species (species at risk in the wild)
  • “Milner Roots” (species used to create the heritage hybrids in Milner Gardens and Woodland)

The Greig Rhododendron Species Garden in Progress:


After the site was cleared in 2016, approximately 460 cubic metres (600 cubic yards, or 40 dump-truck loads) of a special soil mix were brought in and spread.  An irrigation system was installed, and about 150 cubic metres (200 cubic yards) of mulch were spread by hand by volunteers.

The first planting in spring of 2017 included 160 carefully selected rhododendron species.  (When complete, the garden will house approximately 250 different species.)  The following spring, volunteers planted eighteen large specimen trees as companion plants.  The project is ongoing, and additional rhododendrons as well as a large array of perennials have already been planted.

Work will continue for some time to complete the Garden’s collection of rhododendrons and companion plants, along with benches and interpretive signs.  Like all gardens, the Greig Rhododendron Species Garden is a work in progress, and MARS is please to provide our continuing support to help it grow.

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