Forget the John Lewis ad or the arrival of the Coca Cola truck – the festive season officially starts on November 25 when the largest Christmas tree grower in Devon opens its gates to the public.
Eager fans have been flocking to Marldon Christmas Tree Farm for weeks to pick out a tree – but Saturday marks the first day the farm will be open for buying this season.
The farm on the edge of Paignton, whose address is officially The North Pole, has been selling Christmas trees to the people of Devon for more than 20 years, and its reputation has grown far and wide. So much so that they now sell half a million trees a year.
And while for the people of the South West a visit to the farm is part of the family Christmas experience, it isn’t just locals who benefit.
People travel from the depths of Cornwall and as far as Bristol to pick up a Marldon tree, and there are regular visitors from as far as China who visit to pick out a unique designer spruce.
The farm also supplies some big retailers – and Marldon trees can be found in some of the biggest and best hotels in London. Most of the local councils across Devon and Cornwall will come to Marldon to pick out their tree.
Marldon Christmas Tree Farm
Marldon’s chief operating officer Steve Gribbon said: “There’s some real expertise, some real science in how we grow and trees and that’s what makes them so popular – we know what we are doing.
“Coming to Marldon to pick up a tree has become a Christmas tradition for families across the bay and across Devon.
“A trip to the farm isn’t just about picking up a tree – in fact we don’t mind if people don’t buy one. Families will come up here just to wander through the trees, enjoy the lights and the music. It’s part of Christmas.”
Marldon owner Sadie Lynes, who bought the farm 10 years ago, agrees. She said: “Marldon is part of the family Christmas experience. Yes we are commercial, we’re a business, but we’re not commercial like the garden centre conveyor.
“Families come to Marldon because we are part of Christmas – and because we are local. That’s important to people – to know their tree is grown locally. People want to see where their produce comes from, they want to see it grow, they want to ask questions. We offer all that.”
How to pick – and keep – the perfect Christmas tree
Pick the right tee for the size of house you have. The most popular sellers are a six-foot Nordman. If you pick something too big you may end up having to cut bits off to make it fit which will damage the shape and health of the tree.
When you get the tree home, cut an inch off the bottom and put it in water, Make sure it has water through its time in your home. When the tree is first cut it will seal the ‘wound’ a fresh cut put straight into water will allow the tree to drink throughout Christmas.
Don’t put anything else in the water – one buyer decided to add bleach to kill off bacteria. It killed the tree.
Keep your tree away from the radiator. If you keep the tree in a cool place, it will last longer. Marldon has kept cut trees looking happy and healthy for up to seven months.
When you’re done with the tree, make sure it is mulched. Councils offer local collection or you can take it to recycling centres where you can make sure it will still have a use after the decorations have come down.
All the trees sold at Marldon, both the cut variety and those in pots, are grown in Devon. Many are grown on the 40acre site, others are grown at nearby plantations including ones at Wildlands, Blagdon and Staverton.
Steve said: “The different plantations allow us to grow different varieties of tree. Some of the trees will grow much better at higher altitude or with different temperature.”
Thanks to all this, Marldon is able to offer around six varieties of cut trees and another half-dozen varieties of pot-grown trees. Including the award-winning blue spruce.
Marldon has invented its own variety, which it calls The Grinch, by splicing a spruce with a Nordman. That is the variety that has seen buyers come from China to pick up a tree.
Marldon Christmas Tree Farm
Marldon also works with local farmers, hiring out fields to grow even more festive forests.
The trees are all grown as organically as possible.
Steve said: “That’s important for us. If we have to use chemicals we will – sometimes you have to fight off pests or bacteria, but we don’t routinely apply dangerous chemicals as some of the growers and retailers will.
“If you grow your trees properly, there’s no need.”
As well as looking out for bugs and fungus which could damage the trees, Marldon is also having to cope with global warming.
When the weather gets cold, the trees ‘go to sleep’, effectively hibernating and stopping their growing cycles. But with warmer winters trees keep growing.
Marldon has developed its own, natural techniques for helping the trees get back into their natural rhythm.
Used trees and those that don’t make the grade are mulched and turned into compost – making the soil that future generations of tree will grow in, and as far as possible, everything is sourced locally for Marldon Christmas Tree Farm.
Marldon Christmas Tree Farm
So is it environmentally friendly to have a real tree that you stick in a room for three weeks then chuck away?
Or is it better to have a plastic tree that is made with petrochemicals and takes centuries to break down?
Steve said: “We grow half a million trees a year and we are linked with a group that grows 10 million a year. That’s like a lung.”
Steve is convinced that for the eight years a tree grows before it becomes part of our festive tradition they are making the environment a better place – taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. As well as the chemicals needed to produce a plastic tree, once dumped in landfill you’ll still be digging them up in hundreds of years’ time.
The fun at Marldon officially starts on November 25 with an opening party – including choirs and music. There will then be events throughout the selling season with local groups and children involved.
There are already three reindeer on the site, as well as geese, with donkeys and turkeys among the animals set to arrive.
Reindeer at Marldon Christmas Tree Farm
There is a new treehouse grotto ready for Santa to visit this year – he’ll be there when he can from December 1.
And there’s a new train stop for those who want something like the Polar Express experience, only with a landtrain taking you through the farm to see all the lights and sights.
There is also a new café this year, which will be serving hot drinks and snacks – and a Christmas market where stallholders will sell you anything you need for the festive season.
Marldon’s shop is also on hand for all your decorations – Family Christmas all in one place.
The shop at Marldon Christmas Tree Farm
Steve said: “The farm has really taken off and expanded in the last four years, Sadie is a great business mind and great for the community and she has made this place a huge success.”
The farm has gone from employing five people to employing 50 – including 10 on site through the year just looking after the trees.
Every tree is hand pruned throughout the year to make sure it grows to the required shape and size.
Steve said: “We follow the trends in the shape of our trees. Given that they take so long to grow there’s a bit of crystal ball work involved.”
Marldon Christmas Tree Farm
Conical trees are popular know, and people are starting to look for Swedish trees – which are more open and great for hanging decorations on. American style trees which are full and bushy look set to be the next big thing.
And after Christmas has been and gone, will that be it for Marldon Christmas Tree Farm?
Fans of the festive treat will be glad to hear there are big plans ahead – including a new restaurant, an American style fire-pit, a waterfall with pools and ponds. It is set to become something of a year round attraction – with its own boutique garden centre,
Sadie Lynes at Marldon Christmas Tree Farm
Sadie said: “Next year we are looking at Easter and Halloween events, we just want to keep making what we do better!”
The farm opens on Saturday at 7am and will stay open until 7pm.
There are plans for a series of events throughout the festive season.
Source: Devon live