Island View Nursery gets OK to partially reopen

The owner of a Central Saanich nursery received some good news Monday: He can reopen about 40 per cent of his operation, which had been closed for a two-week quarantine after inspectors found a pathogen on a rhododendron.

“It was like I was choking and now I can breathe again,” said John Garcia, owner of Island View Nursery at 2933 McIntryre Rd.

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“It was absolute relief, like the whole world was lifted off.”

On July 4, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency informed Garcia by email his 80-acre nursery would be quarantined for two weeks.

Inspectors working for the agency had taken samples in June that revealed one rhododendron was carrying spores of an algae-like organism, Phytophthora ramorum.

The federal inspection agency has said Phytophthora ramorum can cause disease in numerous plants, shrubs and trees. Since the pathogen poses a significant risk to nurseries and other plant-based businesses and resources, Canada and several of its trading partners conduct quarantine operations to protect against it.

In the days following the July 4 quarantine notification, inspectors returned to take further samples for testing. Those tests have cleared sufficient areas to allow the nursery to partially reopen. More test results are expected.

Garcia opened Island View Nursery in 2004. Working with his wife and two grown children, he has made the operation into the biggest wholesale nursery in the capital region.

It has about 100,000 plants in about 1,000 types. The business operates 30 greenhouses and tends 20 acres of trees that are grown for transplanting.

Island View Nursery has a customer base of nearly 2,000, including garden centres, landscapers and municipalities. Depending on the time of year, it employs 10 to 14 people.

This summer’s quarantine is the second Island View Nursery has faced. In 2007-2008, federal inspectors also found Phytophthora ramorum and forced the nursery to burn its entire stock. Federal compensation was available through a program that no longer exists, but Garcia still estimates the move cost him about $1 million.

Garcia is still awaiting results from further tests, looking for the spores that spread Phytophthora ramorum. Those tests include samples from the water in the operation’s five-acre irrigation pond.

“How can you hold onto a spore that travels by air, and travels by water and travels on wildlife?” he asked. “At least we have a little hope now.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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