Exeter is ready fir Christmas!
THIS weekend and next are when 90 per cent of Christmas trees will be bought. And as regular as Christmas is the annual story warning of a) a tree shortage and b) rising prices.
These scare stories usually revolve around the Nordmann firs, now our most popular tree. And the price rises are blamed on expensive imports from Denmark and the weather.
But this story is about as old as your auntie's Christmas pudding, and should be taken with a pinch of salt. We don't import the vast majority of our Christmas trees. Nearly 95 per cent are home-grown, with a large number of growers in the South West.
And the best way of making sure you get a good, fresh tree at a good price – is to buy local.
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Stuart Kirkup from the Haldon Christmas Tree Centre says he has had no problems with his trees, and his Nordmanns are doing particularly well. The Dartmoor farm has won a host of national awards for the quality of its trees, and the standard this year is just as good.
"Our Christmas trees and wreaths have won more than 20 British Christmas Tree Growers Association awards from 2002 to 2012, more than any other grower in the UK," said Stuart.
"We're successful because we're passionate about what we do and dedicated to producing beautiful trees which are local and sustainable.
"It has been a good year. The cold and wet start meant growing started later, but we have caught up. The trees are all looking good and harvesting is going well."
Both its trees and wreaths, along with all the usual accessories from decorations and mistletoe, are now on sale at its retail site at Haldon Forest in Bullers Hill, Exeter.
"This is our 11th season up there and it's a great location because the trees can be cut down at the farm and be at Haldon in half an hour. We are cutting every day throughout the season.
"The Nordmann fir is the UK's number one selling tree. I think it takes up about 85 per cent of the market.
"We also grow another variety called Fraser fir, which is our bestseller by a long way. It is very compact, ideal for modern houses.
"Not a lot of people can grow the Fraser. It is very specific on what it needs. We have the perfect conditions for them here and we have won lots of national awards for them. A lot of people in the British Christmas Tree Growers Association are very jealous because we can grow them.
"Nordmann and Nobles are very layered all the way. It does not always give you lots of space for decorations, where as Frasers are a lot bushier which people love, and that's because of the pruning we do.
"Fir trees tend to hold their needles better than the spruce. But as our spruce are cut fresh you won't get so much drop with them."
Stuart said the team at the shop are always happy to talk to people about the trees and how they were grown and how they should be looked after once they have got them home.
One of the most important pieces of advice Stuart gives his customers is to keep the tree well watered.
"You wouldn't take flowers home and leave them in a empty vase," he said. "It's the same principle but on a bigger scale with trees. Try not to put your tree by a radiator or fire and keep topping up the water. A 6ft tree will take 1.5 pints of water a day.
"Another top tip is put your tree in the stand while it's still netted because it makes it a lot easier to manoeuvre."
Dartmoor Christmas Tree Farm was formed in 1990 and has long been one of the main Christmas tree growers in the region, supplying garden centres throughout Devon, Cornwall and Somerset as well as at Haldon Forest.
Stuart, a qualified civil engineer, took over the business in 2002 and is responsible for looking after up to 90,000 trees growing at the 23 acres site at Lower Cator in the heart of Dartmoor.
Stuart, who always has two Christmas trees up in his home, said he loves his job.
"It is a way of life for me now," he smiled. "It can be full on at certain points, but it is mainly quite relaxed.
"I get to work outdoors and it is very satisfying seeing the trees grow and develop. I plant them as four-year-old saplings and then it usually takes another seven or eight years to grow them to seven or eight foot. It's a long process.
"There is always something to do, clearing, planting, pruning, harvesting. A lot of what you do to the trees is the same process over and over again."
On the six occasions Stuart has entered the annual British Christmas Tree Growers Association competition they have been crowned overall champions. And as winners have had one of their trees in the Pillared Room in Downing Street. It is used when international agreements are being signed or as the main staging area for receptions.
"We have been down there so many times that the security men know us," said Stuart.
"When we turn up with the tree in its net they just wave us through."
Haldon Christmas Tree Centre is open seven days a week, 9am to 5pm. Details: 01803 665064 or visit www.dartmoorchristmastrees.co.uk