Santosh Patel: Putting down roots in Kawartha Lakes
Lining Lindsay’s Victoria Avenue boulevard are 110 trees, all planted in 1997 when Lindsay was named a Green Streets Canada Community by the Tree Canada foundation. Of the six species chosen, some flower and fruit, some have fall colour, all are hardy, trouble-free and of modest size. Ideal choices for a town street.
Ideal for my small backyard, too, I’m thinking, as replacement for a cankered dogwood. Sourcing the trees takes me to Santosh Patel, the owner of Rockwood Forest Nurseries, which is located roughly midway between Lindsay and Fenelon Falls and open April through November.
The trees I’m after are among the hundreds of shade and evergreen trees grown on the nursery’s 300 acres and can be ordered either dug out of the ground with the roots wrapped in a wire basket or in a container.
Each year, Santosh tells me Rockwood plants approximately 4,000 and the plan is to plant close to 8,000 trees by spring 2022. And there’s lots more, too, in the fields or one of the six greenhouses — shrubs, perennials and landscaping materials.
Santosh and his team can help with design, soil analysis and making smart choices. He has 18 seasonal staff altogether, roughly equal numbers male and female. Some of them have been with Rockwood for a decade or more.
They “make the difference,” says Santosh. “They’re loyal and hardworking — salt of the earth.” His number one priority, he tells me, is ensuring the business continues to be able to employ them.
The challenge is drawing customers out to the nursery. Not many walk-ins (or even drive-bys) when you’re on a quiet road, alongside a provincially significant wetland.
But it is, Santosh persuades me, well worth making the trek out. Selection, service and a preference for organic practices, are factors. As well, there’s no business where it makes more sense to buy local. If a tree has spent five to six years growing in a field near Cameron (rather than, say, in the Niagara fruit belt) you can be sure it’s hardy.
Earlier in the pandemic, Santosh, his family and team grew vegetable seedlings and offered them to anyone who wanted to come and get them. This year he’s planning programming for kids — when families come out parents can walk around with staff while children learn how to grow a tree.
It was only a year ago that Santosh bought the 30-year-old business. A former chemical engineer, he says one factor in his new career choice was that his parents have lived in Fenelon Falls since 1999. He’s been staying with them while he and his family look for a place to buy.
As he looks to put down roots here in the Kawarthas Santosh is conscious of what trees do for the environment. “Perhaps the biggest satisfaction,” he says, “comes when I think of my daughter and what trees can contribute to her future.”
In every sense, he’s putting down roots in the Kawarthas.
Postscript: My final choice was a serviceberry, a hardy native that will join other natives, including several ninebarks, in my backyard.”