Born on Vancouver Island
Courtenay, British Columbia
The sun broke out as North Island Rhododendron Society President Harry Wright addressed the crowd assembled to help celebrate the official opening of the "Born On Vancouver Island" rhododendron bed on May 4th 2007. This new bed would hold a special place in the Comox Valley Rhododendron Garden in Courtenay, British Columbia, and play a small part in recognizing the efforts of Island hybridizers. The City of Courtenay proclaimed May as Rhododendron Month for the year 2007 and the opening of the Born On Vancouver Island bed was one of the many events held throughout the month.
As part of the celebration, President Wright shared some of the history of the garden and highlighted the unique and successful partnership between the North Island Rhododendron Society and the City of Courtenay. Mayor Starr Winchester brought greetings from the City and together with President Wright the ribbon was cut to officially open the Born On Vancouver Island (BOVI) bed. There were plenty of homemade cakes and cookies on hand prepared by Society members to share with those attending the ceremony as well as to pass out to folks walking through the gardens. As the gathering came to a close, rains that had held off during the festivities blessed the newly established rhodos with a celebratory drink!
To have a beautiful rhododendron garden easily accessible to the public has long been a dream for Harry Wright, past president of the North Island Rhododendron Society and former District 1 Director of the American Rhododendron Society. The Comox Valley Rhododendron Garden was originally proposed in 1993 and given approval by the City in 1996. Through the "Partners in Parks" program, the City of Courtenay Community Services Parks Division contributed finances for materials and labour and the North Island Rhododendron Society provided plants, materials and labour to begin work on the garden. The Comox Valley Rhododendron Garden was officially opened in June 1997. The combined efforts of the City and Society provided community members and visitors with a lovely rhododendron garden which provides colour from early spring to mid summer and beautiful greenery year round. The garden is located along the walkway behind the Tourist Information Bureau on Cliffe Avenue, adjacent to the Air Park, and is enjoyed by all who have the opportunity to stroll through it.
Harry Wright and Courtenay Mayor Starr Winchester at the official opening
of the Born on Vancouver Island rhododendron bed, May 4th, 2007.
Photo by Noni Godfrey
A special section of the garden that highlights rhododendrons born and bred on Vancouver Island has always been part of the plan. Since 1990, Harry has been searching for and collecting plants hybridized on the Island. A number of the hybridizers have produced plants that are now registered and widely available; however, many of their creations were never mass-produced and can only be viewed in select private gardens. Some of their hybrids have been lost and may never be recovered. The development of the new BOVI bed is the result of a continued partnership between the North Island Rhododendron Society and the City of Courtenay. It was planted on October 5th, 2006, and currently includes nineteen Vancouver Island Hybrid rhododendrons and two companion trees, a Styrax japonica and a Cornus kousa, which will enhance the spring show.
The Born on Vancouver Island Bed has rhododendrons from four of our "own" hybridizers: George Fraser from Ucluelet; Dr. Stuart Holland from Victoria; Mary and Ted Greig from Royston; and Harry Wright from Courtenay. We hope to add to the garden as other BOVI rhododendrons become available.
Alan Campbell from the Cowichan Chapter has been researching the Vancouver Island hybrids for a number of years and has written several very informative articles on the subject. With his kind permission we have been able to use his research and record some of the history of the rhodos in our new bed.
We currently have two rhododendrons hybridized by George Fraser (1854–1944) who was one of British Columbia's first rhododendron hybridizers. A gardener and a plantsman since he was a young man in Scotland, Fraser moved to Victoria via Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the late 1880s and worked as a foreman for the newly created Beacon Hill Park. In 1894 he moved to Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island where he established a nursery and began hybridizing plants. He was well known amongst plant enthusiasts for his brightly coloured rhododendron crosses which include 'Albert Close' (registered in 1951) and 'Mrs. Jamie Fraser', both of which are in the new BOVI bed. Fraser hybridized many rhodos, and a specimen he sent to England in 1919 was named "Rhododendron fraseri" (now registered as Fraseri Group) by Kew Gardens. Internationally recognized for his work, he was posthumously awarded the ARS Pioneer Award in 1990 and is commemorated each May at the George Fraser Day and Heritage Fair in Ucluelet.
Dr. Stuart Holland (1919–1989) was born in British Columbia, and although he was trained as a geologist, he had a strong interest in botany. Together with fellow plant enthusiasts, he was instrumental in the development of Playfair Park in Saanich near Victoria, BC. He took special interest in rhododendrons and developed a beautiful garden on Transit Road in Oak Bay. His interest and passion for rhododendrons led to hybridizing. The BOVI bed is delighted to feature 'Transit Gold' (Royal Flush Group (cream form) X R. cinnabarinum subsp. xanthocodon) registered for Dr. Holland posthumously by Bill Dale in 1990.
We are very pleased to have ten rhododendrons from the work of Mary and Ted Greig whose Royston, BC, nursery supplied plants to dedicated gardeners throughout the Pacific Northwest. The Greigs were originally interested in alpine plants when they bought the nursery stock from Buchanan and Suzanne Simpson in 1935. Rhododendrons were purchased along with the stock and the Greigs' long-time interest in rhododendrons began. Hybrids the Greigs grew from the collected seed of R. auriculatum and 'Fabia' produced 'Royston Yellow'*, 'Royston Orange'*, 'Royston Peach'* and 'Royston Reverie' all of which are now growing in the BOVI bed along with 'Royston Radiance' (R. hemsleyanum X R. auriculatum) 2000; 'Royston Rose' ('Last Rose' X R. auriculatum) 1981; 'Veronica Milner' (R. campylocarpum X 'Little Ben') 1962; ' Buchanan Simpson' (open pollinated?) 1963; 'Tri-Gold'* (cutting grown from one of the rhodos in Mary's garden); and R. bureavii X 'Fabia'.
Of special interest to our club are the rhododendrons developed by local plantsman Harry Wright. A founding member of the North Island Rhododendron Society and the Comox Valley Horticultural Society, Harry has been president of both societies and an active member of each executive. After leaving the Royal Canadian Air Force, Harry owned and operated a landscaping firm and later became the parks foreman for the City of Courtenay. He and his wife Gwen currently operate a small nursery and the beautiful Haida Gold Gardens specializing in Rhododendrons. Harry has a strong interest in hybridizing and has developed a number of rhododendrons, registering five in 2001. These plants, named 'Courtenay King', 'Courtenay Queen', 'Courtenay Princess', 'Courtenay Lady', and 'Courtenay Duke', are part of the gardens of Government House in Victoria as well as in a number of private gardens throughout BC. 'Courtenay Lady' is the Official Plant of the City of Courtenay. The BOVI bed is home to 'Courtenay Lady' (2001), and 'Courtenay King' (2001), as well as 'Haida Gold' X 'Golden Star', 'Enchanted Evening' X 'Goldsworth Orange', and 'Haida Gold' X 'Crest'.
The opening of the new Born On Vancouver Island bed as part of our Comox Valley Rhododendron Garden heralds a new era and we look forward to a grand showing each spring!
* Name is not registered.
Diana Scott is the current president of the North Island Chapter.