Sue Dyer with a pre-cut Christmas tree (larger ones also available)

There’s not much time left before Christmas, but if you still haven’t bought a tree, you might want to check out Kings Creek Trees and Ornamentals in Ashton. Tim and Sue Dyer sell pre-cut Concolor Fir, Douglas Fir, and Fraser Fir – varieties that are very rare in this area. The trees are from Sue’s brother’s tree farm in Pennsylvania, where her family has been growing Christmas trees for over 30 years. The plan is to eventually start selling trees from their own farm (more on this in a moment), but their own trees are still young and not ready to harvest. So in the meantime, you can buy some gorgeous Christmas trees from Sue’s brother’s farm – some of the nicest trees I’ve ever seen.

Kings Creek also offers Evergreen Wreathing Workshops on weekends in November and December. At most of the workshops, customers create large evergreen wreaths, but the final weekend (Dec. 18 and 19) is dedicated to evergreen table centrepieces and Christmas urn inserts/planters. If you want, you can also make the centrepieces or urn planters during a wreath workshop, as I did last weekend.

Workshops start at 9am and 1:30pm, and last about 3 hours. The cost is $50, and includes all supplies, refreshments (hot cider, coffee, and homemade muffins), and the assistance of Sue and Tim throughout the workshop. The building is heated and well lit, and the owners play music from a local jazz artist. It’s a really nice way to spend a half day before the holidays – and it certainly beats spending the day in shopping mall madness!

While I was there, I also got a tour of the tree nursery and the perennial greenhouses. Sue and Tim have invested a lot of time and money into creating a business specializing in unusual trees and perennials. The trees are a longer-term project, as it takes up to 17 years to reach the harvest stage for some of their trees. The perennials are shorter-term, but still very labour-intensive.

I started my tour with Tim, who brought me to the greenhouse where they keep their evergreen seedlings for the first three years. The greenhouse is full of unusual evergreens that no one else is growing – trees like Sakhalin Fir from Japan, Nordmann Fir from the Caucasus in Georgia, and Myers Spruce from China. All of the trees are grown from seed. Some of the seeds are collected by helicopter (Colorado Blue Spruce from the Santa Fe National Forest), and some can only be collected every 3-5 years (Canaan Fir from Canaan Valley, West Virginia).

As you can imagine, many of the seeds are extremely expensive. Fortunately, Tim and Sue have become very skilled at achieving high rates of germination. They use a process called stratification, in which you mimic springtime weather by wetting the seeds and cooling them in the refrigerator for weeks at a time. It’s a complicated, time-consuming process, but it results in extraordinarily high rates of germination as compared to just planting the seeds.

The Dyers look for seeds that come from areas similar in climate to Ottawa, which helps to ensure that the trees will thrive when grown here. This is a unique feature of their business – they don’t just make sure that the species can grow in our climate; they actually get the seeds from trees that grew in the same conditions. This attention to quality has enabled them to successfully grow trees like the Douglas Fir, which many people felt could not be grown here.

After the trees spend three years in the greenhouse, they are moved to a field beside the greenhouse for another two years. This field is surrounded by 8 foot fences to keep out the deer (who love small trees!) Once the trees hit the 5 year mark, they are dug up and either sold, or moved to the Dyer’s other farm near Smiths Falls. The other farm is a 90-acre property consisting of three 30-acre sections: the first will be cut-your-own trees, the second will be landscaping trees, and the third will be for wholesale, pre-cut trees. It’s still early in the growing process, so it’ll be a while before this operation is fully up and running.

In the meantime, Kings Creek also sells perennials, including ornamental grasses and exotic thistles. They also specialize in wetland species that are used to re-establish natural ground cover around rivers and lakes. As local governments start to legislate buffer zones between bodies of water and residences, there will be more of a need for these plants that look good and help prevent nutrient run-off.

Kings Creek Trees and Ornamentals is open year-round. If you want a tour of the nursery, it is best to call ahead so that they can schedule a good time for you to visit. You can also drop by in the growing season to purchase some top-quality perennials and trees, or visit during November and December to buy a Christmas tree or attend a workshop. They also do corporate wreathing workshops (a really fun way to spend an afternoon with your co-workers), and they are happy to come out to talk to any groups you may be involved in (e.g. gardening clubs). And if you’re reading this before Dec. 18 or 19, you may still be able to get into one of their workshops this weekend – the last ones for the season!