The Humble Beginnings Of Van Veen Nursery

Theodore Van Veen, Sr. (Van) established the nursery back in 1926 as a means of supplying plants to his landscaping clients. He grew plants that were popular in his day and sold many camellias and deciduous azaleas, often using them to trade for groceries during the Great Depression.

When Rhododendrons were introduced into production in 1930, the general line was phased out. This left the rhododendron operation as it exists today while Van Veen is currently also growing Camellias, deciduous azaleas and other plants.

Meet The Founder: Theodore Van Veen, Sr.

Van came to America in 1900 from Aarlanderveen in The Netherlands. Along the way, he worked in various nurseries in Holland, England, and Canada. He has always been a forward-thinker— as early as the 1930s, he was tinkering with rooting compounds, using electric cables to heat propagation beds, and using mist to cool them. He did all this believing it was possible to grow rhododendrons on their own roots.

Van was a charter member of the American Rhododendron Society, which was founded in Portland in 1945. Back then, the plant was multiplied only by seed, layering, and grafting. With Van's innovative thinking, the method of "cutting grown rhododendron, the king of shrubs" became popular.

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Ted Van Veen: Growing The Business

When Van died in 1961, his son Ted Van Veen took over the management of the nursery. He purchased the adjacent nursery in 1968 and expanded their land. At present, the nursery has four acres of greenhouses and gardens near downtown Portland.

Sharing Their Expertise

Ted shared his knowledge in the field by writing "Rhododendrons in America," the first colored how-to book for the layperson. It became so popular that it was printed in Japanese.

Like his father, Ted was also highly involved with the American Rhododendron Society both locally and nationally. In 1976, he was awarded the American Rhododendron Society's prestigious Gold Medal.

Kathy Van Veen: Continuing The Legacy

Kathy Van Veen assumed management in 2003 with the passing of her father, Ted. She brought the accumulated knowledge of her ancestors to the nursery and was said to be able to "root a pencil".

Following family tradition, she was also active with the American Rhododendron Society and was awarded the ARS Gold Medal in 2011. She was also very active in the maintenance and development of Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.  Kathy passed away in 2017, bequeathing the nursery to the Portland Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society.  An independent non-profit 501c3 corporation was formed as the Van Veen Heritage Garden, under a conservation easement, to further the work of the Van Veen family.  

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Visit Our Nursery

Between January and June, thousands of different Rhododendrons, Camellias, and azaleas bloom each year at our nursery. Schedule a time to see our historic greenhouses, heritage trees, and 80-year-old rhododendrons.