O Christmas Tree!
PUBLISHED: 09:00 05 December 2013
For an estimated eight million households in the UK, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a real tree.
Those who shun the artificial in favour of a freshly grown variety may also experience a calmer Christmas according to the British Christmas Tree Growers Association. Studies reveal that just looking at a tree can reduce stress levels – handy for when the season’s pressures of shopping and cooking can get on top of us.
The act of actually choosing and buying the tree is a tradition for many and for customers at the family run Langford Lakes Christmas Tree Farm near Wellington, the annual ritual marks the start of the special season.
“A lot of people say that Christmas starts here,” Reg and Ann Hendy tell me when I catch up with them on the farm at Langford Budville.
Since I first visited them six years ago there has been a 30% increase in sales of trees from their shop and they now grow more on 44 acres of land to meet demand.
“In previous years we’ve run out of the larger trees, but now that we have more land we can extend our plantation growing time to achieve more large trees,” explains Reg.
“I think that sales have gone up for several reasons. The first is that we produce a good fresh crop and secondly, we’ve been retailing for 15 years and over that time we have gained a real sense of feeling that people want to support local businesses and support local farming.”
Reg has been able to sell direct to the customer rather than supply his trees to a supermarket or garden centre; this means his customers can choose a tree, which appeals to them.
“Everyone has their own tastes and I’m grateful for that. One customer might choose a tree, which looks different from the one that you prefer for example.
“Price is another critical factor. We are at an advantage because we grow the trees ourselves.
“I also hope we give a good service. There are about 15 of us in the shop when we are flat out at Christmas. We have staff here that have helped us for several years and they know the routine and the regular customers.”
Reg and Ann moved to Langford Budville in 1971 and formerly grew wheat and potatoes on the land; Reg was also an agricultural engineer.
The trees they grow today are mostly Nordman Firs.
“It’s very slow growing but is so sturdy and durable,” says Reg.
“The needles are soft and have a nice blue tinge on the underside of them and they are without a shadow of a doubt the best tree for low needle drop.”
They also grow Norway Spruce and since diversifying into tree growing, people are curious to know what Reg does for 11 months of the year before Christmas.
Obviously, there is an incredible amount of work to be done, not least the pruning and then there’s the bud rubbing – a job that takes weeks. By flicking out the buds they don’t want to shoot, they are able to shape the tree without having to cut it.
In addition, tree planting time at Langford Lakes has been has been moved, as Reg explains.
“We used to plant in Spring but because of the dry summer we’ve lost trees, so for five years now we’ve been planting in the Autumn. This way the trees are going into warm soil, which results in early root development, and our loses have been less.
“But before we plant, we have to grind the stumps from the old plantation and prepare the ground. There’s stacks to do!
“I have someone who helps me part time and our two sons, Shaun and Nick, help on a regular basis, including marketing and tree cutting in December. We couldn’t run the business without the family.”
Their daughter-in-laws, Trudy and Clare are also involved – in particular with the popular Christmas shop and festive wreaths.
Ann says: “We make the festive wreaths from the foliage of the Christmas trees and these are decorated with ribbon, lemon, orange and cinnamon sticks. We also make mantels, which customers can put over their fireplaces.
“The shop opens on 22 November and we have late night openings this year on 6 and 13 December until 8pm. On the three busy weekends before Christmas, Father Christmas is here to give children a free gift. Adults can enjoy a hot drink and mince pie for free but if you feel you want to donate, then the proceeds go to Children’s Hospice South West. Last year we raised over £1,000.”
Ann would like to encourage customers to keep their Christmas tree out in the garden for a while after the festive season.
“Don’t throw it out after Christmas because the Nordmans still look lovely and even though we’ve got thousands growing out here, I like to put mine out and hang some bird feeders on it. It will be green up until April or May.”
Reg, who was interviewed by the BBC’s One Show about the abundance of wildlife living on his tree farm, is keen to remind us that a real Christmas tree is recyclable.
“We offer a service where people can bring them back to be chipped and that all goes back on the land. I think young people are very concerned about looking after the planet and what finer way to do that than by having a real Christmas tree.”