Best of British
The festivities are never far away for this farming family
A Christmas-tree farm in Hampshire
FOR NICK ROOK-BLACKSTONE, it’s always Christmas. He started growing Christmas trees 15 years ago on Wylds Farm, in the Hampshire village of Liss, where his family has lived since 1965. Through the decades they raised pigs and cows, and grew organic vegetables, before settling on Christmas trees.
The festive business has a major advantage over livestock, says Nick, who took over the farm from his father 25 years ago. ‘You can go out for the evening and not worry that the trees are going to get out on the railway line.’
Nick started with a rental idea, where spruces and firs were potted, and customers brought them back to the farm in the new year. ‘It seemed like a great idea, but then every time the wind blew, they fell over,’ says Nick.
He planted the trees instead, selling them alongside decorations and glühwein, and running tractor rides. The family all play their part – Nick manages ‘growing and mowing’ with his father Christopher, while wife Sophia looks after the shop and his mother Heather ‘supports us all with cups of tea and lashings of cake’.
Nick and Sophia’s three teenage children help, too, although he isn’t sure whether he will pass the farm on to them when he retires. ‘There are so many other opportunities out there, I wouldn’t want to tie them to it. But I’d be delighted if one of them wanted to.’
Each year, after a fortnight’s rest following the hectic festive period, the family begins to prune the 22,000 trees on the farm ready for the following year. This helps them to grow wide and bushy rather than tall and spindly.
Nick says that the trees could grow up to 3ft over 12 months, but they prefer to keep their growth to around 1ft a year to encourage them to expand outwards.
Nick also battles the farm’s biggest competition – deer and rabbits. ‘[Christmas trees] are very tasty to rabbits when they’re very small, and deer absolutely love them,’ he says.
The farm’s organic credentials mean pests aren’t treated with insecticides unless as a last resort. ‘I will allow a certain amount of aphid damage in the hope that the predatory insects like ladybirds are quick to get in and stabilise those exploding populations,’ says Nick.
The trees grown at Wylds range from 8in to 15ft in height and come in three varieties: traditional Norway spruces, blue spruces and ‘non-drop’ Nordmann firs – while all trees lose needles, these hold theirs better.
Nick’s favourites are the blue spruces. ‘They look magnificent – this almost Mediterranean blue – and they have a wonderful smell.’
Despite his profession, Nick is unfussy about the tree he chooses for his own home. ‘I love them – they’re my life – but when it comes to Christmas in our house we have the one that no one else would take.
‘But they all look beautiful when they’re decorated.’ wylds-farm-christmas-trees.co.uk
Clockwise from below left Wylds Farm, Liss; a direct line to Santa; Nick and Sophia with Nick’s parents, Christopher and Heather. Interview by Helen Chandler-wilde