St. Lawrence Nurseries sprouted up in 1923, and was first the endeavor of Fred L. Ashworth, of Heuvelton, NY. He was a farmer with an interest in growing and propagating fruits and nuts for northern climates. The nursery spent many years as more of a hobby and experiment station than a business for Fred. He supported his family through farm labor and working for the county on the road crew, but also grafted and sold fruit trees in a small business he called St. Lawrence Nurseries.
Bill MacKentley met Fred in 1971, and within a few years they developed a relationship that became almost like family. Fred was self-taught, but extremely knowledgeable and well-read. During his lifetime he had tried many fruits and nuts in this northern climate, learning what survives and what winter kills here, and had recorded his observations in single-space typed or laboriously hand-written pages. Fred traded information, scionwood, and cuttings with other plant-breeders in a forum of letters called a “round-robin” through organizations like NAFEX (North American Fruit Explorers) and NNGA (Northern Nut Growers Assn.) leading to innumerable experiments and dozens of new edible plant varieties.
When Fred died in 1977, Diana and Bill purchased the land where he had done much of his grafting and breeding in Potsdam, NY. In 1981, they produced the first official St. Lawrence Nurseries catalog. For 34 years, the MacKentleys cultivated a truly unique and wonderful business, carrying the legacy of Fred Ashworth’s passion. In September of 2015, the nursery was passed on to Connor Hardiman. Connor worked for the MacKenleys for 5 years prior to taking over the nursery (with the invaluable help of several core employees). The MacKentleys continue to be involved in an advisory capacity; distributing their decades of knowledge and ensuring a successful future for St. Lawrence Nurseries.