Just south of Ottawa, eastern Ontario’s largest tree nursery welcomes nature lovers to explore its 1000 acres of plantations and forested Crown land. Since 1945, the Ferguson Forest Centre (FFC) has been providing tree seedlings for the reforestation of eastern and southern Ontario. Originally managed by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the nursery property is now owned by the Municipality of North Grenville and leased by the non-profit Ferguson Forest Centre Corporation.
There are three parts to the FFC property: a seasonal nursery outlet, the seedling production and research areas, and over 800 acres of forested Crown land with numerous walking trails.
The nursery outlet is open in the spring and fall. Visitors are free to walk through the greenhouses and view the many types of trees, from conifers to hardwoods to shrubs. Some of the trees are quite large (10 ft. or higher), while others are tiny seedlings available for less than a dollar each.
The nursery also takes pre-orders by telephone or through their website. This is a requirement for many of the trees they sell, since certain varieties sell out months before the nursery season opens. You can go to the FFC website to see a list of available trees, including estimated costs and preferred growing conditions.
After you’ve loaded your purchases into your car, you can drive through the property to see the various seedling and tree plantations. Much like a regular farm, the seedling production areas consist of cleared fields with rows of trees. You can drive (or walk) from section to section to see the various trees being grown on the property.
While exploring, you may come across two research areas. The first is the Eastern Ontario Butternut Archive, a fenced-in area that is part of a research project to save the butternut tree from extinction. Most butternut trees are infected with butternut canker, a deadly fungal disease most likely introduced from Asia through the St. Lawrence Seaway. However, some trees are showing signs of resistance to the disease. The Butternut Archive researchers will take the shoots from some of these trees, graft them to black walnut trees, and plant them in this location in hopes of someday bringing the butternut back from extinction.
The other research area is the Kemptville White Pine Blister Rust Resistance Trial. Like the butternut canker, white pine blister rust is a fungal disease that was accidentally introduced to native trees from another continent (Europe in this case). The disease has contributed to a major decline in white pine across Ontario. Researchers are using the FFC trial site to test how well potentially resistant seedlings grow under varying conditions.
After you’ve finished exploring the plantations, it’s worth parking the car and spending some time in the FFC forest. While you can enter the forest from any location, the trails are not particularly well marked, so it’s best to enter at the trailhead beside County Road 43. Unfortunately, the trailhead is very difficult to find, so here are some directions: From the FFC nursery entrance, head past the outlet store until you see the FCC nature trails sign. Turn left. When you reach the end of the road and are facing the forest, turn left again. Drive to the end of this road, where you will find a large red building on your left and County Road 43 ahead of you. The trailhead is on your right.
This is the start of the Management Trail, a 2.3 km self-guided walking trail that is designed to educate visitors about forestry in eastern Ontario. However, if you want to learn, you need to come prepared. First, you need to print a copy of the trail guide beforehand, because there are no paper copies available at the trailhead. You should also print a copy of the Friends of Ferguson Forest Centre printer-friendly trail map. As you’re walking, keep an eye out for the red tags that mark the official trail; there are many other established trails through the forest, and it’s easy to take a wrong turn. Finally, be aware that many of the numbered posts for the trail guide are missing, but it’s fairly easy to determine where they would have been, just by reading ahead in your trail guide.
Hopefully these navigational challenges will not stop you from visiting the FFC trails. The forest is peaceful and quiet, and is very enjoyable to visit even without a printed guide or map. If you take a wrong turn, you’re unlikely to get lost for very long, as the property is surrounded by major roads and the Rideau River. Open year round, the trails are a popular place for families and people with dogs. There is no cost to use the facilities, and the access roads are maintained in the winter.
Location: 275 County Road 44, Kemptville (at the intersection of County Road 43 and 44)
Phone Number: (613) 258-0110 or 1-888-791-1103
- Main site: http://www.seedlingnursery.com
- FFC Management Trail Guide: http://www.northgrenville.on.ca/files/Management%20trail05071.pdf
- Friends of the Ferguson Forest Centre trail map: http://www.friendsofthefergusonforest.ca/trail%20map.pdf
Reservations: Not required.
Hours: Trails and access roads are open year-round. Nursery outlet is open in spring and fall, with hours posted on the FFC website as opening season approaches.