Best of Bri­tish

The fes­tiv­i­ties are never far away for this farm­ing fam­ily

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

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-christ­

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

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