“The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.” (Rabindranath Tagore)

South Nation Conservation (SNC) planted more than 210,000 native trees and shrubs this spring, but it would not have been possible without the support of the many landowners involved in the program.

Josette Landry and Brian Wilhelm took advantage of SNC’s program for the first time in 2022, coordinating with staff and volunteers from SNC to plant 10,800 trees on the former Gauthier-Landry family farm near L’Orignal. The couple, who live in l’Orignal but work in Ottawa and Montréal, also spend their weekends working to revive the 100-acre property into a working farm.

“There’s always a list of things to do,” laughs Wilhelm, of the couple’s weekend trips to the property. “We try to balance our time, experience and energy with what we can accomplish.”

“It’s something we really enjoy and we’d like to do a bit more in that direction – not necessarily professionally, but on a smaller scale.”

Pointing to a large garden just east of the farmhouse, Wilhelm observes it takes up just a tiny section of the space used to grow food to sustain the original owners when the farm first went into operation in the early 1950s.

“This is a small portion of the garden that used to be huge – the family was completely self-sufficient,” Wilhelm explains of the old dairy farm. “It used to be all the potatoes, carrots, onions and everything they needed for the year, that were grown and then stored downstairs in the basement.”

Over the past few years, Landry and Wilhelm have added fruit trees to the garden area and this spring also planted 14 haskap bushes. But the most significant additions to the property in 2022 are the 10,800 seedlings planted by SNC in early May – including tulip tree, bur oak, red oak, black walnut, swamp white oak, red pine, and white spruce.

“We heard about it from our neighbour just up the road, who did this last year,” says Wilhelm, noting the couple eventually plans to plant some specialty crops, but will not use the full 100 acres for farming. “We had a tour of where the trees were planted and thought it was quite interesting – we liked the idea of (planting trees) on the land that wasn’t being used.”

The couple contacted SNC and had an inspection done on the property in 2021 – discussing different plans of what could be achieved. Aerial imagery later helped to finalize the plan for placement of the more than 10,000 seedlings in preparation for spring 2022 planting. When the work was done this spring, they were extremely impressed with the efficiency of the volunteers from SNC.

“I was really impressed with the team, because they got everything done in a day,” says Wilhelm, who used his tractor to mow down the long grass and till paths for the seedlings in various sections of the 100-acre property. “I thought for sure – given the distances and the number of trees – that it was going to take longer than that.”

The preparation done in advance helped the planters tremendously, says Caroline Goulet, a forester with SNC, who worked with the couple in preparing the plan for the site.

“What’s really great for projects like this one is the landowners are so involved in the preparation of the site,” Goulet enthuses. “They were actually able to till the rows at the back, which was great for the planters to plant straight rows.”

South Nation Conservation forester Caroline Goulet (left) and landowner Brian Wilhelm examine oak tree seedlings planted by SNC in early April. “I’m surprised at how well they’re doing,” Wilhelm says.  Photo: Reid Masson

Because the landowners were so involved, SNC staff were able to plan far more hardwoods on the property than they normally would.

“For hardwoods you need a little more love and care,” Goulet explains. “In this case, because the landowners are so motivated and want to take care of the trees, we are able to go ahead and plant as many as we can.”

Once the seedlings are fully matured, they will create multiple windbreaks around the old Gauthier-Landry farm, as well as several separate sections of mixed forest. The trees will take decades to reach maturity, but for now Wilhelm maintains grass trimming around the small seedlings in order to give them a good start in their first year.

“I’m surprised at how well they’re doing,” he says.

While they will most likely not be around to see the trees when they are full-grown, Landry and Wilhelm have a vision of what future generations will experience. The couple lived for four years in England and visited many historic properties in the old country while there.

“You see these oaks that are three or four hundred years old and you appreciate the fact that somebody a long time ago planted these trees – it really adds a lot to the atmosphere of the property,” Wilhelm reflects.

“You have to start at some point.”

SNC is a not-for-profit and community-based environmental agency that relies on donations and self-generated revenue to protect and enhance the local environment across its 4,441 square-kilometer jurisdiction. More information on how to become involved in SNC’s tree-planting program can be found on SNC’s website here: https://www.nation.on.ca/land/forestry-services/tree-planting-services.