A Century of Sheridan Nurseries
Comments | Print friendly | Subscribe | Email Us
“A quarter-century ago, on the eve of my departure from London, friends and relatives were sympathetic. A colonial career offers the last refuge to the inefficient, forced out, by competition at home, into the wolf-infested wilderness, the ice and the snow. A much travelled uncle said that Canada might be ready for my profession in fifty years.” Thus did Howard Dunington-Grubb, founder of Sheridan Nurseries, look back a quarter century later to his arrival in the Toronto of 1911.
He and his newly acquired wife, both landscape architects, found a fertile field there for their practice but an appalling lack of plant material. Leslie & Son Nurseries’ 200 acres on Ashbridges Bay in East Toronto, once the largest in the British Empire, had long been sold for development. There was little else to supply their needs.
The answer was to open their own nursery. In 1913, they purchased 100 acres near village of Sheridan (named after the Irish playwright Richard Sheridan), just outside Oakville to the west of Toronto. The first of what was to become a tradition of much anticipated catalogues was issued in the fall of 1914 for the 1914-15 season. By 1926, Sheridan Nurseries had grown to 250 acres and was a thriving operation.
It was still something of an uphill battle to accept professional garden planning. “People here are just beginning to grasp the idea that gardens are an expensive luxury and that a small sum spent on finally sodding the place down is not going to be good enough for the home of the future,” he wrote in 1935.
While most gardeners probably think of Sheridan as a chain of highly successful garden centres, the first was not opened until the early 1920s near Toronto’s Yonge and Bloor Streets. Today, there are nine such centres in the Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo areas.
Born in York, England in 1881, Howard Grubb received his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1908. He returned to England to work for three years with Thomas Mawson, an established landscape architect.
Marrying Lorrie Alfreda Dunington in 1911, the man who was to become known as the father of landscape architecture in Canada, combined their names, becoming Howard Burlingham Dunington-Grubb. Possessed of a delightful sense of humour, he was in his acquaintance’s words, “tall as a Lombardy popular,” perhaps not the kindest of comparisons – as tall as a white pine might have been a better description.
Lorrie was raised in India, South Africa and Australia before graduating in garden design from the Swanley Horticultural College, England. One of the first women to practice landscape architecture in Canada, she was later to write for Canadian Homes and Gardens, Maclean’s, and Woman’s Century. Her husband between the two World Wars supplied a weekly double-page garden advice spread to The Globe and Mail. Those were indeed the days . . .
Following World War II, the original nursery expanded north to outside Georgetown, Ontario. Today Glen Williams occupies 900 acres above the Credit River, Norval of Lucy Maud Montgomery fame a further 83 acres, and a container farm of some 260 acres.
Combined these raise over 600 varieties of perennials and the same number of hardy woody selections, including evergreens, roses, shrubs and trees. They are noted internationally for having introduced such classics as the ubiquitous ‘Mountbatten’ juniper, the Sheridan hybrid boxwoods ‘Green Mountain,’ ‘Green Gem,’ and ‘Green Velvet,’ the ‘Glenleven’ linden, the wildly popular ‘Ivory Silk’ tree and ‘De Groot’s Spire’ cedar.
Howard Dunnington-Grubb died in 1965 but his spirit of innovation lives at the company he founded. In January 2011 Sheridan received the Environmental Award of Excellence at Landscape Ontario’s annual awards ceremony for an innovative project for an assured supply of irrigation water for the Glen Williams farm. A large 3.5-acre pond, 32 feet deep, holds 32 million gallons. Pumps push 2,300 gallons per minute through the farm irrigation system but 15 per cent of this water is recaptured and fed back into the pond. The system reportedly took three years of planning and construction was completed in two-and-a-half years, according to Landscape Trades magazine.
Canada’s father of landscape architecture would have been proud.