Gardeners rejoice! Many of us enjoy growing plants that yield a crop—but how many of us think of planting nut trees? Lynda and Richard Wegner did. After learning butternut trees were becoming endangered species in Canada, they planted a gracious avenue of them on their organic farm in Bristol, West Quebec. “We chose butternuts for environmental reasons,” explains Richard. “They’re an endangered species because they’re susceptible to a canker disease which appears when they are about 15 years old. The Quebec government offered them, free, to people who would plant them. We got 100 saplings 24 years ago.”
With compound, emerald-coloured leaves divided into leaflets, butternuts shimmer and stir on a light breeze; the effect is picturesque and calming on a summer’s day. Heartbreakingly, after 24 years of nurturing, the Wegners realize canker has infected their grove. With no known cure, their trees will perish although for now, they all still look lovely. “All anyone can hope for is, like elm trees with Dutch elm disease, some will be resistant,” says Lynda.
Researching nut trees
Although planting butternuts clearly demonstrates environmental commitment, Canadian property owners can choose from a variety of species. Gardeners deliberately choose nut trees not only for their food crop, but also to feed wildlife and to harvest for woodworking projects.
Happily, many of us can visit an arboretum to examine what the trees will look like, how much space they require and other factors, before purchasing one. For example, south of Ottawa, the Fillmore R. Park Nut Grove located at the Baxter Conservation Area in Kars is a demonstration nut orchard featuring more than 20 species. Many native North American varieties are growing here, plus some introduced ones. Visitors can get a brochure and map on-site, then stroll alongside walnut, hickory, pecan, oak, beech, hop-hornbeam, Kentucky coffee, locust, gingko, Korean nut pine, hackberry, chestnut and hazel trees.
Meanwhile, on Canada’s West Coast, British Columbia’s fertile Fraser River Valley boasts hazelnut (filbert) orchards. The town of Agassiz is filbert central, being the province’s significant centre of production. The nuts are delicious raw, roasted, or included in stir fries, desserts, chutneys, soups, chocolate—and as a liqueur.
Quick tip: When next visiting Vancouver, drive or bike to Canadian Hazelnut in Agassiz. It’s a popular stop on the Slow Food Cycle Tour, where you can tour the certified organic orchard, bike or stroll along shady rows of magnificent trees, and sample delectable products. Can there possibly be a better way to discover whether you want to grow hazelnuts?