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Oh Christmas Tree

by Barbara Van Reed

For many people the Christmas spirit includes the feel and fragrance of a genuine tree, whether pre-cut, potted, or chosen and cut at a local tree farm. Sure, artificial Christmas trees come close to being perfect, but it's in a plastic, manufactured world. Although statistics show that more than eighty percent of trees displayed at Christmas will be artificial, close to twenty percent of us are willing to put up with the watering and needle vacuuming a real tree entails. We talked with some local sources who can help you find that near-perfect, real-tree specimen. Most of them also provide necessary accessories such as tree stands and disposal bags, and many carry decorations, ornaments, and gifts as well.

Teddy Bear Farms in Auburn brings in balsam, fraser, and Douglas firs from Canada for customers who like the convenience of picking out a pre-cut tree. In addition, they also sell live trees with roots, potted or balled and burlapped, for customers who want to plant their tree in the yard after the holidays. Most of the rooted trees are locally-grown frasers, as well as a Colorado Blue Spruce that owner Tony Kruckas brings in from Oregon. Tony said he can't find the “baby blues” locally, possibly because they are a slow grower. “But they are a nice specimen tree for the yard.” The potted and balled trees are one-and-a-half to seven feet tall. The taller ones can be tricky to lift and carry, he noted.

The Teddy Bear Farms store carries garlands, wreaths of all sizes, kissing balls, and centerpieces, all made on-site with fraser fir, pine, balsam, and laurel when he can get it, said Tony. His favorite story is about a couple who every year bring back their 84” wreath ring for him to “green up.” They then decorate it and set it up in their front doorway for visitors to walk through when they come to visit.

The shop also carries a large selection of ornaments, including glass, polonaise, and collectibles. And don't forget to check out the Christmas Bear Shop and the assortment of colorful poinsettias. Teddy Bear Farms is at 872 Soutbridge Street, Auburn, 508-832-8739, www.teddybearfarms.net. Hours are Sun-Thurs 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Fri/Sat until 6:00 p.m.  

Robbins Garden Center in Oxford also brings fresh cut trees from Canada to its store for the season. The five-to-eight foot trees will be the balsam fir and fraser fir varieties. “There are still a great number of people who appreciate the smell of freshness of a real tree and make it an important part of family life,” said owner Pat Robbins.

Each year Pat picks out one of the nicest trees, one that looks good all around, and donates it to the Oxford Bandstand, where the Boy Scouts will decorate it. 

Besides trees, wreaths, roping and decorations, Robbins sells a variety of items that make interesting Christmas gifts. Bird feeders, bird seed, and wind chimes are popular items, says Pat. She told us about one customer who lives in Ohio and orders a gift certificate every year for local relatives who have a pellet stove. “They want to make sure their East Coast family members are warm in the winter,” she joked. The garden center is at 28 Sutton Ave. in Oxford, 508-987-2897, www.robbinsgarden.com.   

At the Echobrook Nursery in Worcester, Howard and Francine Shear offer both locally-grown pre-cut trees and potted or balled and burlapped live trees. The locally-grown trees are usually fresher than those brought down from Canada and will keep better, said Howard. “It also helps keep the dollars in the local economy,” he noted. He acknowledges that the pricing for Canadian trees may be better, but believes the quality isn't always there. One of Howard's favorite Christmas tree varieties is the new Canaan fir, which he described as a cross between the balsam fir, prized for its fragrance, and the fraser fir, which has stiffer branches and needles and holds heavier ornaments better.

Francine runs the nursery's shop, and makes the wreaths and garlands and other holiday decorations. She will customize them to a customer's specification for type of greens and ribbon colors to match the home's décor.

Echobrook Nursery is also a great place to shop for Christmas tree ornaments. Francine stocks families of ornaments to support a theme or material type, such as burlap or wood. She carries the Midwest brand of ornaments, a line of Belgian clear glass ornaments, and mercy ornaments.

The nursery is open everyday from 8:00 a.m  to 7:00 p.m. during the holiday season. It is located at 1120 Grafton Street, Worcester, 508-791-5939, www.echobrooknursery.com.

In Woodstock, High Springs Orchard will be selling freshly cut trees grown locally by Breton Tree Farm in Woodstock. They will be 7 ft. tall and priced at $35. “Our customers asked us to bring in some Christmas trees,” said Dineen Noren, “and we are happy to deliver.” Supplies will be limited. The orchard is at 47 Dividend Road, off Rt. 169, Woodstock. Phone 860-993-4732, www.highspringsorchardllc.com.

Jim's Christmas Trees in Charlton is a seasonal business that's become one of the largest wholesalers of Christmas trees in the area. Owner Jim Gagne tells us he sells thousands of trees a year to smaller local resellers in addition to those he sells at his Hammond Hill Road location. He brings the balsams and firs in from Nova Scotia, small and large, on a demand basis when needed, to ensure they are as fresh as possible. The trees are transported in climate-controlled boxed trucks so they are not hit with road dirt.   Jim brings in a  few “cathedrals” up to 18-ft. high, and will special-order the larger trees for his customers as well.

Jim's Christmas Trees is a family operation that started 30 years ago “with 15 trees and no money,” said Jim. Today it's known not just for its large selection of trees, but also for the immense, colorful display of  Christmas characters and lights at both his house and barn and across the street. It's all synched up to music, which you can hear on 88.1 FM evenings from 6:00 p.m. when you drive by.  He estimates between 500 and 1000 cars a night come to see the display. Jim says, “I don't care if you buy a tree, just enjoy the lights. If you can't find the spirit here, you're in trouble.”

The tree store is open 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. every day. All trees up to 10 ft. tall are $27. They are at 25 Hammond Hill Road, 508-248-6595, www.jimschristmastrees.com.

Choose-and-cut trees

Wandering through fields of Christmas trees to select that one special fir is an annual event for many families. At Star of the East in Sutton, owner Verna Maki calls her Christmas tree farm a place where memories are made. “We have wagons full of family groups -  parents, kids, grandparents, aunts and uncles – coming out to pick their trees. And we have young couples visit who first came here when they were kids.”    

Verna and her husband planted their first crop of Christmas trees thirty years ago, when their children were little. “Now they're all grown and gone – how time flies,” she says. Visitors can ride and walk through their 64 acres of trees of all species and sizes. You can cut your own or the Star of the East elves will do it for you. They will also bring the chosen tree back to the shop and bale it with netting while you are enjoying a cup of hot chocolate.  All trees, large or small, are $60 (no credit cards). “Most of the big trees go quickly,” said Verna. Star of the East will be open Thurs-Sun from 9:00 a.m. to dusk, until December 21. The shop also carries wreaths, roping, centerpieces, and kissing balls, all made by Verna. 15 De Witt Road, Sutton; 508-865-3292, www.stareasttree.com.

Also in Sutton, Barbara O'Connor and her husband began planting their 10 acres of Christmas trees in 1987 and sold their first tree nine years later. Their Sleighbell Tree Farm & Gift Barn  is open just two or three weekends each year, and they close the fields when they are sold out for the season. Fraser firs are the most popular variety, said Barbara, but the concolor fir is becoming increasingly popular and so they are planting more and more of those. It is bluish-green, has a longer needle, and a citrisy smell, and was considered an exotic tree, she explained. The farm also grows white pines, blue spruce and Scotch pine.

There's a lot more to do at Sleighbell Farm than just choosing and cutting a tree. The gift shop is filled with unique ornaments: snowmen, Santas, primitives, Thomas trains, as well as glass ornaments from Barlow's in East Providence. It also features a collection of silver Wallace sleighbells dating from 1972.

Kids will like the Santa's Express train running through the barn.

The wreaths for sale in the shop are all made by Barbara, who uses her vacation time from her full time job as a medical techologist at UMass Memorial Hospital to make them.

Sleighbell Tree Farm is located at 130 Whitins Ave. in Sutton, 508-234-6953, www.sleighbelltreefarm.com. The will be open Wed-Fri from 3:00-6:00 p.m., and on Sat/Sun from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The fields at Arrowhead Acres in Uxbridge contain more than 30,000 Christmas trees of all varieties, firs, spruces, and pines. You can cut your own, or they will cut it for you, and they will also take care of  taking it out of the field, shaking and netting. Owner Dave Morin says they cannot tie the tree down for you on your vehicle because of insurance, but they will provide step stools and baling twine at no charge. Another free service they provide is drilling the trunk so that it will be perfectly straight in the tree stand.

Arrowhead Acres is open weekends from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but you must be there by 3:30 to choose and cut a tree. They are at 92 Aldrich St, Uxbridge, 508-278-5017, www.arrowheadacres.com.