If you’re planning to have a real Christmas tree in your home this year, why not choose the eco-friendly and sustainable option of buying local? I took a tour of a Suffolk tree plantation at the weekend so here’s why you should consider getting your festive tree from a local producer…
Have you ever considered the impact that your real Christmas has on the environment? If, like me, you’re interested to learn more about British-grown trees, today’s blog post is for you. But that’s not all – there are MANY reasons why you should get a real Christmas tree from a local supplier this year and it’s not just about being the sustainable option. I was lucky enough to be invited to Blackthorpe Barn in Suffolk to have a look around the tree plantation last week and I learnt a lot while I was there. Let’s start with the first reason why you should buy local…
Shopping for a Christmas tree with a local producer is fun. Sure, it’s easy enough to pick up a mass-produced tree when you’re doing your usual shopping at the out-of-town retail park, but where’s the fun in that? When you plan a special trip to pick out your Christmas tree from a local grower, you can take the whole family with you and really make a day of it.
I was so excited to wrap up warm in my favourite Christmas jumper and fluffy coat to head to Blackthorpe Barn to pick out my dream tree. We listened to a festive CD in the car as we drove the handful of miles to Rougham Estate near Bury St Edmunds. By the time we parked up and caught a glimpse of the tree plantation, we were bubbling over with excitement. Skipping towards the barn, we spotted cut-out boards where the whole family can have their photo taken as Santa’s elves. And when I saw a wreath with a ‘selfie hole’ in the middle, I was posing for a photo faster than you can say ‘turkey and tinsel’!
I was lucky enough to be invited by the owners of Blackthorpe Barn to have a look around the plantation. Although it’s not usually open to the public, you can actually see the Christmas tree fields from the car park, so that gives you an idea of just how low the carbon footprint of these trees are if they’re grown and cut only a few hundred yards away from the place they’re being sold!
We strolled through the plantation and saw trees at all stages of their development. I was surprised to learn that all the trees are planted together and a few are chosen each year to be cut for Christmas. This allows the trees to bush out and grow taller over the years at their own rate, so a field might have trees from 3ft to 6ft or taller. The usual rate of growth is about a foot per year, so it’s good to know that you’re paying for around 6-7 years of care when you buy a 5ft-6ft Christmas tree.
The trees on the Rougham Estate aren’t watered in the fields, so you can be sure that there hasn’t been litres of water used in the production of your local Christmas tree. Even during this summer – remember that heat wave? – the trees had to rely on getting their water from the soil as no irrigation system is used. Sure, there might have been a couple of casualties in the heat, but the vast majority of the trees grow perfectly well without additional water in the UK climate.
THE TREE LASTS LONGER
When there’s large-scale production and transport to consider, a Christmas tree may well have been cut a couple of months before Christmas. At Blackthorpe Barn the trees are cut and are available to buy in the yard the same day. I spotted some tagged Christmas trees in the plantation fields and these are the ones that will be cut when needed over the coming month. There’s a variety of trees available including Norway Spruce, Nordmann Fir and Fraser Fir Blue Spruce, and you can ask for advice on which trees will hold their needles best and how to care for them in your home.
I saw the cutting device in action while I was there. A machine called the ‘nibbler’ is like a giant pair of secateurs and it snips off the tree at the base within a matter of seconds. So impressive. Obviously, the bigger trees (I saw Narnia-esque giant ones that’ll end up in town centres) are tackled with a chainsaw but the stumps degrade quickly and are dug back into the land, to make space for the next batch of young trees. The earliest you can buy a tree at Blackthorpe Barn is 23rd November and I chose a Nordmann Fir, which should last well without dropping needles. It was netted with ease and we popped the 6ft tree into the back of our little car before heading into the Christmas shop.
MAKE A DAY OF IT
At Blackthorpe Barn, it’s so much more than just a Christmas tree yard, as there’s a huge festive shop packed full of decorations (including Fairtrade baubles and handmade items), gifts, craft supplies and toys. It’s that full of gorgeous decorations that the shop is practically a winter wonderland tour in itself. Following on from the shop is a cafe that serves delicious lunches and refreshments all day, so grab a steaming cup of something tasty to sip while you’re picking out your tree.
If you visit on the weekend, pop into the British Crafts exhibition to shop for unique gifts, handmade by artists and crafters right here in the UK. And if you really want to make a day of your trip to Blackthorpe Barn you can book in for a craft or floristry workshop. I went on the wreath-making workshop last year and it was one of the most festive days out I’ve ever had. I’ll definitely be booking another course again this year – have a look at the list of workshops for kids and adults here. And I’m pretty sure that the kids will want to visit Father Christmas in his grotto so make sure you book in advance to secure your meeting with Santa.
Let me know if you’re planning to get a local Christmas tree in the comments below and please share your festive traditions too! If you don’t live in Suffolk or the surrounding counties, simply do a quick online search for your nearest local Christmas tree producer and check out what other activities they offer on-site, so you can really make a day of picking out your Christmas tree. Enjoy!