Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day Trip: Pine Grove Park’s Rhododendrons & Azaleas

Man's heart away from nature becomes hard. – Standing Bear

Some of the larger rhodos in the park.
I found myself in a place close to where I grew up but had never been in this Saturday. It was Pine Grove Park in Milton, just outside Liverpool on the South Shore of Nova Scotia.

Capt. Steele commemoration plaque
Pine Grove Park is a hidden gem. It was established in 1987 as a public park by Bowater Mersey (part of Abitibi Bowater of paper products fame). The place has the feel of a 1960s retro picnic park. Why it’s a gem, besides the fact it is a quiet woodland oasis, is because yesterday it was a rhododendron and azalea lover’s dream.

After establishing the park the people at Bowater enlisted the help of Captain Dick Steele to establish rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias under the pine canopy. Captain Steele was a rhododendron aficionado who had world renown for breeding rhodos. He also was awarded the Order of Canada for the same.

Suffice it to say they are stunning. Actually they are majestic. It was a perfect day yesterday in the park and the light shone through the pines lighting the rhodos up. Almost all of the rhododendrons are a minimum of 6-8 feet tall. Many are in excess of 12!

They were in perfect form yesterday. Almost at their peak. We encountered a cadre of German photography tourists who were revelling in what we all found there. They and the rhodos were everywhere through the woods!

Everywhere you look there are (very) large rohdos.
The park has winding paths that take you through mature trees and the rhodos as an understory. I have no idea how many rhodos were there but they were too numerous to count.

Golden Lights. Photo:
Kingsbraegarden, flickr ccl
There were white, many pinks and varying shades of red. There was also, in a sunnier spot, stands of very mature azaleas in stunning shades of dark orange, multi tone and yellows. I imagine Captain Steele had his hand in their breeding as well as their selection. 

One in particular—a gorgeous deep yellow with white— had an intoxicating scent. That is rare. The plants were so large you could smell the fragrance from the trail. It also had flowers that rivalled the rhododendrons in size. We were actually inspired to do a side trip to Cosby’s Garden Centre in Liverpool to “see what they had”…

Lo and behold, they had one of the yellow azaleas that we fell in love with. It is called Golden Lights, part of the extremely hardy Northern Light Azalea series. It also is hardy to -40°F. Now that’s hardy!

One of several stands of azaleas.
The azalea was in bloom at the nursery and you could smell the wonderful scent from it there as well. Suffice to say it made the trip home with us. Hopefully we put it in a spot where it will be very, very happy.

The whole experience was a wonderful relaxing excursion. The trails are well maintained and wide. We walked around the whole trail, probably about a kilometre and a half or a little more. It was more than pleasant.

The trails wind through the rhodo and azalea stands down to the edge of the Mersey River where there is a beach, old pump well and a fireplace for people to use (when legal to have outdoor fires). There are also rustic wooden benches scattered throughout for you to enjoy the views.

The rustic main entrance from the parking lot.
Unfortunately we didn’t see any magnolias. I assume because we were either too late or too early as most magnolias are early spring bloomers or wait until the summer to put on their show.

If you find yourself on the South Shore you should go to Pine Grove. I grew up not 20 minutes away and had never visited before. How foolish I was. It now will become a yearly pilgrimage when the rhodos are showing off. It's definitely worth the trip.

The park is located on Route 8. Just take a right at the bottom of Exit 19 on Highway 103. 103 is the main highway running from Halifax all the way along the South Shore. The park is less than a kilometre from the exit on the left.


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