HISTORY OF GREER GARDENS:
What began as a hobby for Edgar Greer became a thriving, international business and life-long passion for his son Harold.
In the mid 1950s, Edgar purchased an empty lot next to the family’s home on River Road in Eugene, Oregon so he would have room to cultivate a variety of ornamental shrubs and flowers during retirement. Harold often accompanied his father as he traveled to meet other gardening enthusiasts, and soon he was fascinated by the seemingly endless possibilities of crossing rhododendrons. It was once said in The Quarterly Bulletin of the American Rhododendron Society: “Edgar’s ace in the whole was his son Harold, who took to rhododendrons like a duck takes to water and having a good memory, it wasn’t long before he could tell you the parentage of most any rhododendron hybrid in their planting.”
Invigorated by the camaraderie of other hobby gardeners throughout the Willamette Valley, this love of ornamental plant cultivation shared by father and son grew into a hobby business named Colin Kelly Gardens after a nearby school. After a year or so, on second thought the name was changed to Greer Gardens.
In 1961, with an eye to expand their retail nursery business, Harold and his father purchased about three acres of agricultural land on what is known today as Goodpasture Island Road. As the business continued to grow, Harold and his wife Nancy purchased another adjoining 11 acres to form Greer Gardens.
Harold became known for his ingenuity and success in hybrids, recording at least 53 with the American Rhododendron Society that he crossed and introduced, with another 32 seedlings from others that he named and marketed.
In 1968 the American Rhododendron Society held its convention in Eugene. Like-minded enthusiasts from all over the country toured Greer Gardens during their trip to Willamette Valley. They liked what they saw and several visitors asked for a plant list hoping they could have plants shipped to their homes after they returned from the convention. Nancy, who was the bookkeeper for the business, helped compile a plant list and responded to their requests. The mail-order catalog business was seeded that year and became the perfect companion to their local retail nursery business.
Eventually, the mailing list grew to over 38,000 addresses in 19 different countries, and the catalog showcased more than 4,000 different types of plants. The Greer Gardens Catalog came to be a trusted and much-anticipated periodic reference for plant hardiness and accurate flower color descriptions, as well as a treasure trove of rare and unusual hybrids.
Harold’s depth of knowledge led to more publications including Greer’s Guidebook to Available Rhododendrons, first published in 1982, and Rhododendron Hybrids, which was jointly written with Homer E. Salley and published in 1986. Harold was not only skilled in talking and writing about rhododendrons, but also photographing their every detail. One of his spectacular photos of a budding rhododendron was featured on the cover of the May 1986 edition of Smithsonian magazine.