The Cary Legacy
Ed Cary in front of the Cary Brothers Nursery on Route 9, Shrewsbury MA, 1960
When Shrewsbury nurseryman Ed Cary died in 1987 at the age of 86, he had no idea of how valuable his family estate had become. “Ed was a true plantsman, who lived year by year to grow plants, to experiment with new plants, and to share his plants with others,” according to fellow nurseryman Richard Bemis of Spencer, MA. With no heirs to continue the Cary Brothers Nursery on Route 9, he left his estate to local charities, including the Worcester County Horticultural Society–half to support the library, and half to go toward awards and prizes for horticultural endeavors. “It was really an extraordinary windfall for the Society,” said its executive director emeritus, John Trexler. “It says a lot about the man, how he lived his own life so modestly, but was able to help others in this way…we eventually interpreted his desires and came up with the Cary Award, which will draw attention to many of the unusual and underused plants that Ed held so dear.” The design of the award was in part modeled on the Gold Medal Plants program of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
The Cary family estate, 1985
Now in its twenty-first year, the Cary Award program has thus far selected fifty-eight woody shrubs, trees or vines for distinction. Remaining true to the spirit of the Cary family, winners are chosen for their hardiness, uniqueness, and ability to extend the New England growing season. Plants can be nominated by anyone. Winners are selected by a panel of regional experts, along with members of the Worcester County Horticultural Society. The list contains species and cultivars unfamiliar to many gardeners.
If Ed Cary were alive today, he would no doubt be baffled but pleased by all the attention. “He was just a humble guy who thoroughly enjoyed plants and growing beautiful things, different things,” said Wayne Mezitt, president of Weston Nurseries and a member of the Society’s Board of Directors. ”So much of the outstanding work he did in his lifetime has been lost, or is in private collections. This Cary Award program is a fitting legacy for a unique individual.”