Friday, March 29, 2013

Grelen Nursery - Finest Tree and Shrub Nursery in Virginia

Young Japanese Maples in foreground ©2013 BDG
I  have an old friend from childhood who has a tree and shrub nursery in Virginia called Grelen Nursery, and this is quite a benefit for someone who loves plants.   As families, we get to see each other every year, but it has been years since I visited his nursery in Orange County, Virginia.  This is one of the most beautiful parts of our country with rolling hills, hardwood forests and green fields bigger than your imagination.

Farm Operation on old Dairy Farm   ©2013 BDG
Dan started by planting several rows of weeping Japanese Maples behind his family's country house in Orange over 20 years ago and now has 600 acres of land with over 200 acres planted with trees and shrubs.  What started as a nursery now includes a significant construction business with masons, tree experts, plant installers, horticulturists and maintenance people.

The nursery operation is now on land that he purchased over ten years ago.  Previously it was a dairy farm in a long valley with perfect gentle slopes on each side for growing trees and shrubs.  

Looking down the valley ©2013 BDG
This area is known for its incredibly productive red clay.  The soil is classified as a silty loam with clay, so it holds a tremendous amounts of nutrients and the clay also holds onto water.  After working here for a few days, my pants will forever carry the orange stains of this Virginia clay soil.  

Dan's favorite game with me over the years has been to try and stump me in identifying trees as we drive the rows.  A game that he incorrectly remembers me often winning in the past, well with the trees mostly budless and completely leafless, I absolutely failed this time much to his amusement. 

Blueberries with fruit trees across the valley ©2013 BDG
He has some stunning trees in sizes often not seen in the trade here in New England.  We toured with an architect who tagged and purchased seven 10" caliper American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) that stood 30' high and 15' wide.  The trees will require a 100" tree spade for digging and transplanting to the job.  That is a rootball over 8' wide and 5' deep.   Along with the Beech, I saw huge specimens of Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum), Dogwood (Cornus), Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea), Magnolia (evergreen and deciduous), Japanese Maple (Acer), Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus) and hundreds of others including some massive boxwoods.

Raspberry canes before pruning  ©2013 BDG
Along with being a wholesale nursery, for a number of years they have been growing fruit for "pick your own".  They grow raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, apples, peaches, cherries and have plans and space to add more.  

He and his wife Leslie's latest venture is The Market at Grelen, which is a farm store, garden center, restaurant and event venue. His hope is to provide everything the home gardener needs, including a place to come, rest and enjoy the incredible views and space.  An added attraction is that they will be making their own ice cream with fruits and honey from the farm.  As if the spring isn't busy enough in this business, the store is opening in two weeks.

The Market at Grelen near completion  ©2013 BDG
I visited to see this beautiful spot and to help him and his wife with some heavy lifting in preparation for the opening.  I fear it may take a week or so for my back to recover from unpacking the crates of cast stone and glazed pots and unloading plant loads.  As I return to my congested, suburban world living on .20 acres I already miss the amazing space and beauty of central Virginia.

With there being a significant trend back to sustainable agriculture, small farms and people reconnecting with the source of their food, I think my friends have created a beautiful place to visit for a day, and when you're finished you can pop around to the neighboring vineyard, Barboursville, for a taste or to James Madison's Montpelier (literally next door) or Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (down the road).

Terrace overlooking the nursery  ©2013 BDG
Terrace with a stunning view of the Blue Ridge Mountains ©2013 BDG


  1. I really enjoyed this visit because one of my best friends also owns a tree and shrub farm. He started out like your friend by planting his parents farm land and now he is the biggest wholesaler in our area. I have shown his farm many times on my site, from a tree auction to the equipment used in digging trees. It is a fascinating place to go and I am lucky too because he also does landscaping and general construction. We make a great team as I got him all our clients. Like your friend, he also has over 800 acres, but between three farms and does the same services. His business is Erway Farms in Wilson, NY. Your friend has a beautiful property. I love the rolling hills beyond.

    1. I wish I was closer and could use my friend's services and plants. The pictures don't do justice to the size and beauty of the valley.

  2. You are the best!! Somerset is only about an hour away from me and I've put visiting this nursery/market on my calendar. Yay! :o) I've also added it to my garden club's Map of Area Garden Centers and I've added their grand opening to the Garden Events page. I'm really looking froward to checking this place out!

    1. Thank you, my friend Dan will be grateful. Please look for him and his wife Leslie.