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Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Knowledgebase record #290

A Garden for Life by Mary Greig, 2015

Reviewed by: Brian Thompson
Review date: 2017-04-01

A Garden for Life cover

In the Winter 1945 issue of the “Bulletin”, Else Frye recounts her trip to Royston Nursery on Vancouver Island, a significant journey at that time but with a mecca of rhododendron cultivars and species waiting at the end. “When we came away the car was so full of plants that the botanist husband could not see out of the back window; our suitcase was fastened to the outside and the very last box was firmly planted on my lap!”

In 1936, when the nursery was established, it was an eight-hour trip (about 130 miles) on mostly gravel roads from Victoria to Royston. Under these conditions, the establishment of a destination nursery is hard to imagine, but “A Garden for Life” recounts this engaging story.

The focus is on the lives of Mary and Ted Greig, who established and ran the nursery during its existence from 1936-1966. Many quotations, written at the time by Mary, provide an intimate look at their life. Other sources cite family and close friends from horticultural circles, giving historical insight to the challenges and passions of regional gardeners.

My parents lived on Vancouver Island from 1945 until the early 1950s. Beginning in Nanaimo, they gradually moved up island to the town of Campbell River while my father, an electrical engineer, worked with B. C. Power to install the first electrical infrastructure that connected the many communities with reliable power. For a while, they lived in Comox, very near the Royston Nursery. As renters who moved frequently, my parents did not have an opportunity to establish a garden. I don’t know if they knew of the Royston Nursery, but the stories they told of living in that area are very similar to those of Mary Greig. For example, in June 1946 a powerful earthquake (7.3 on the Richter scale) had its epicenter near Comox and Royston. Both my parents and the Greigs were fortunate that their homes sustained only minimal damage, but an estimated 75% of the chimneys in the area were destroyed. My parents joked about the event, mostly remembering how their piano slid from one room, through the doorway to another. Mary Greig had a similar light-hearted reaction. She wrote to family, “What was all the fuss about?”

Although the Greig’s nursery closed at the time of Ted’s death, the collection lives on at Stanley Park in Vancouver, B.C. Some 4,500 plants were moved there between 1966-1967. Almost 50 years later, Steve Whysall wrote in the August 19, 2013 “Vancouver Sun”: “…for avid greenthumbs looking for botanical treasures and keen to see something rare and out of the ordinary, there is nothing in the park like the Ted and Mary Greig Garden.”

Mary Greig continued to be active in rhododendron circles into the 1980s and many of the later stories in this book include familiar names from local garden clubs and plant societies. There is even mention of a new library named after Elisabeth C. Miller!

Excerpted from the Spring 2017 Arboretum Bulletin.

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