Grelen Nursery creates a unique destination experience

grelenGrelen Nursery is a unique place to enjoy the beautiful Virginia countryside. The rolling hills and open spaces of Orange County are a landscape rooted in America’s history.

Within this one central Virginia county, you can tour the estate of 4th U.S. President, James Madison, at Montpelier, see the ruins of a home Thomas Jefferson designed for a former Virginia governor and walk the fields where the Civil War’s Battle of the Wilderness marked the start of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s march toward Richmond.

Both the history and the sheer natural beauty—with pristine farmlands yielding views of the Blue Ridge Mountains—make this the kind of place where you want to stop simply to enjoy your surroundings.

A great place to do that is Grelen Nursery.

This 600-acre property in the Somerset area of Orange County has been providing top-notch landscaping services for 25 years.

The nursery is just the beginning

From selling and transplanting large trees up to 40 feet tall to providing knowledgeable landscaping, hardscaping and maintenance services, Grelen is one of the largest tree nurseries in Virginia. They were the landscaper for the 2015 Southern Living Idea House in Charlottesville.

But there’s much more to the story here. Grelen is re-defining what a plants-based business can be.

The Market at Grelen, which will open March 1 for its fourth season, provides an entry point to what could be an entire day of eating, drinking, entertainment and outdoor fun for visitors of all ages.

“People come here for the experience,” says Dan Gregg, who opened Grelen Nursery in 1990, and has expanded its offerings over time with his wife, Leslie Gregg, who oversees the market, and business partner Zeke Galvin. “It’s about sitting on our terrace, looking at plants, appreciating the views, taking a tour of the nursery.”

At the market, Chef Matt Turner uses local ingredients—including produce grown at Grelen—to create gourmet farm-to-table dishes in a family-friendly atmosphere. The café serves Virginia beers, wines and ciders to complete the local dining experience.

Experience is the key word here.

Orange County is a tourist destination for families touring Virginia or city-dwellers hoping to escape the congestion of Washington, D.C.

marketatgrelenGregg wants Grelen to be a place where those visitors—as well as area residents—can stop and enjoy themselves, whether by dining at the market, shopping for plants, enjoying the Thursday-night concerts Grelen will run each week from May through October this year, picking berries in season or enjoying other activities available on the property.

Leading up to the market’s re-opening March 1, the team at Grelen is installing Plants Map signs on all plants in the ground around the market and garden center, so that customers can easily access information as they browse.

Grelen Trails complete the picture

The Market’s terrace provides 360-degree views of Orange County landscape, including the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Step off that terrace and explore the Grelen Trails. These 3.9 miles of trails connect to trails at Montpelier to provide up to 9 miles of walking and running paths.

Dogs on-leash are welcome, and The Market at Grelen will even pack you a picnic to take on your trail adventure.

Gregg, who said he’d one day like to see a larger trail network connecting the Orange County towns of Gordonsville, Orange and Barboursville, hopes this innovative partnership between Grelen and Montpelier can help show what’s possible, while providing a recreational resource for families, tourists and school groups.

“Our trails run through nursery, mature forest and farmland,” he said. “They provide an opportunity for children to be exposed to all three of those aspects of the outdoors.

The trails opened in 2015, and already, elementary schools in nearby Madison County have taken field trips to the property.

To help make the trails more educational for all visitors, Grelen has installed Plants Map interactive tags and signs to identify plants and give visitors the opportunity to access more information by scanning the tags’ QR codes with their smartphones.


“Dan really wanted the experience of the trail to be educational, so that field trip groups and regular walkers could walk through and learn,” said Hannah Lucas, a Virginia Tech horticulture student who mapped and installed the markers as an intern at Grelen.

Lucas said the aim was to tag some of the best specimens or most interesting species along thetrail.

Trees of note include a sassafras that Lucas says is one of the biggest she’s seen. She also included a label for a dead tree, to show that plants continue to play a role as habitat for insects and animals, even after their life cycle has ended.

Plants Map as a Web-based client service for Grelen landscapes

Gregg also sees the potential for using Plants Map as a landscape service to create a Web-based plant list with a map for his clients’ properties.

These client profiles would include an inventory of all plants, with information on when and where they were planted. The property map could be configured so that it was only visible to the owner.

The property owner would then have a readily accessible record of their own plants, and could then easily order Plants Map signs for their entire collection.

Preserving Orange’s beauty

While the market, trails, events and nursery all help to market each other, Gregg also has a bigger-picture motive for all of this activity.

“From my perspective, a big piece of what will make Orange County sustainable for years go come is agriculture,” he said. “Without agriculture, land tends to get subdivided and developed,” taking away those vistas that draw visitors.

“Tourism plays a critical role,” Gregg said. “People are coming here to experience the outdoors, and what we are doing at Grelen ties right into that.”

To learn more, visit Grelen Nursery on Plants Map.