The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire)
NURTURING FESTIVE JOY
Christmas trees are lifting the spirits of many this festive season. Ellie House spoke with the proud founders of Ardo Christmas Trees, to discover the journey from sapling to Santa
We’re all in search of festive magic, a flicker of normality following a year of uncertainty. From rules about carolling to conflict over household bubbles, there may be only one constant we can rely upon this December. Even the Scrooges among us cannot fail to feel uplifted by a Christmas tree.
Whether you go all out with a stylish theme, or treasure homemade decorations smeared in glitter, many people have erected their tree much earlier this year.
But as the angel or star is proudly placed on the top, have you ever considered the journey that your tree made – from sapling to the finished product in your living room window?
your life visited a fledgling family business in Aberdeenshire where one determined couple embarked upon growing Christmas trees as lockdown hit.
Farmers Jean and Roger Glennie have been involved with Christmas trees for a decade, but this is the first time they have decided to grow their own trees at Methlick.
From ground preparation to expert pruning, it turns out that producing the perfect tree is a complicated business.
“I think even the most seasoned Christmastree buyers don’t realise the amount of work needed to grow the perfect tree,” said Jean. “It’s a very collaborative process.
“We are second-generation farmers at Hillhead of Ardo, Roger’s family came here in 1964.
“We’re arable farmers and agricultural contractors, but we’re fairly new in terms of Christmas-tree growing.
“Growing trees is a bit like farming, it’s normally passed down through generations and you’d probably start out as a teenager.”
In the north-east at least, land is normally leased to a Christmas-tree grower.
The grower then employs contractors to help with various stages of the process, which Jean and Roger have been involved with for the past decade.
If you’re a little late in taking down your Christmas tree in the New Year, work will already have started to make sure you can choose the next tree in 12 months’ time.
“Land preparation starts in January – we use a machine which mulches above and below the ground,” said Jean.
“It takes any organic matter and breaks it down back into chip, from tree stumps right through to roots.
“This makes the ground ready for replanting.”
Saplings arrive from the grower in Denmark around springtime, and are transported via boat and lorry.
Your six-foot Nordmann fir starts off around six to eight inches tall, and the saplings are then put into soil by specialist planters.
“The growers have their own squad of planters because you need to have the right spacing and the right depth so the tree will be secure in the ground and grow,” said Jean.
“Roger organises the logistics, making sure the right number of trees go to the right field on the right day.
“This is the first year we have decided to invest in planting our own pot-grown saplings. Pot-grown means the sapling will stay in that same pot for three to five years, to give it a chance to form a decent root ball.
“A machine comes in and drills holes in the soil for the pots, then we manually put the pot in the ground, put the sapling in the pot and fill it.
“When they are ready for sale, these trees will be three to four feet high. They grow 20 centimetres each year, and the whole pot is dug out of the ground.
“You can then replant them in a planter outside or even straight into the garden.”
Trees are fertilised in the spring, and Jean and Roger turn their attention to other aspects of farm life over the summer.
Another specialist squad is called in to shape the trees, which is done by hand.
“Trees are a living plant and they all grow differently, just like people,” said Jean.
“They aren’t all uniform, but they will look perfect by the time the team has finished.
“Summer is pretty important, as that’s when wholesale orders are placed. Harvesting starts at the end of October for the wholesale market, and the trees get a foliage feed in the autumn to keep them healthy.”
The first harvest of Jean and Roger’s saplings will happen in four years’ time.
So in the meantime, they are selling the trees they have cared for over the year, from another grower in Aberdeenshire.
“You just hope that people will always want to celebrate Christmas, and this year we had enquiries from November 1,” said Jean.
“That wouldn’t happen usually, and more people want a real tree. It has been very popular this year on the retail side, it’s something positive to do, and we hope people will also enjoy our baby Christmas tree walk so they can learn more.
“We have three Christmas trees in our own house because honestly, you can never have too many Christmas trees.”
WE HAVE THREE CHRISTMAS TREES IN OUR OWN HOUSE BECAUSE HONESTLY, YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY
JEAN’S TOP TIPS TO KEEP YOUR TREE LOOKING FRESH
★ Where possible, don’t take your tree straight into the house. Let it acclimatise in a garage or garden shed, without the net.
★ Give it a chance to fall back into shape then take an inch off the bottom of the trunk.
★ Put your tree into a big bucket of water to give it a decent drink before bringing it indoors.
★ If you don’t have an outside space to do this, even propping it in the bath would do the same.
★ Keep the stand topped up with water once in the house. Trees can drink up to a litre of water each day.
★ Don’t put it too close to radiators, and give it a mist a couple of times each week.