The way Les Clay explains it, the longtime Langley gardener and former nursery operator pretty much talked his way into starting the community’s arboretum.
It’s a good thing, too, because that is the ultimate destination for many of his prize azaleas, rhododendrons and Japanese maples collected over a lifetime.
Clay ran a 40-acre nursery in South Langley. With his wife Beverly, the couple developed a number of hybrid rhododendrons, including one called Langley Tranquility .
He said he was sitting and waiting for something to happen in the city park with officials that included the former mayors of both the City and Township of Langley.
Over the years, he told them, he had donated a number of plants to both the city and township.
“I was giving them a hard time because they weren’t looking after them properly,” he said.
Former Langley city mayor Marlene Grinnell said the city really didn’t have any facilities to handle plant material.
“After a few minutes, Marlene looked me in the eye and said: ‘Why don’t you do something about it?’
“So that’s how it all started.”
By 2010, the Township of Langley adopted a master plan for Derek Doubleday Arboretum . Last year, a two-storey log-post and beam interpretive centre opened in the park, located in the 21200 block of Fraser Highway. The arboretum is home for the Arboretum and Botanical Society of Langley and provides meeting space for other volunteer organizations.
At least 26 medium-sized trees and 22 mature shrubs will be moving from Clay’s home in Murrayville to the arboretum whose main purpose is to educate people about the cultural and environmental benefits of plants.
Clay said after downsizing his nursery in 2001 to one acre, he estimated that he moved about 500 rhododendrons and other plants onto his property.
He said his children are planning to build a house on the property where he can live with his daughter. Clay decided it was the right time to donate some of his plants to the arboretum.
“I’m donating a fair number of plants,” he said. “We’re in the process now of making arrangements to carry it out.”
Niall McGarvey, landscape design coordinator for the Township of Langley, said Clay is donating most of his yard to the arboretum.
“The idea is that it would be a legacy garden,” McGarvey said. “He has quite a few rare specimens that he grew basically from cuttings or seeds.”
McGarvey said Clay is donating a couple of fairly large Japanese maples that “are really spectacular.” If sold, he said, they could fetch as much as $15,000 each.
“He has quite a stunning collection,” McGarvey said. “They are all fairly rare plants and they’re all in really good condition.”