When James and I first moved to Hong Kong in 1985, Christmas trees were pretty much of a rarity in Asia. At that time, the American Women’s Association used to take orders for trees in August and have them shipped by refrigerated container to the island in time for us to go down to the docks and choose one. One year something went wrong with the refrigeration system and I can still remember the unhappiness on our children’s faces when they arrived to find a storage area full of needle-less, brown, dead trees. Fortunately, after considerable calling around, James located a place on the mainland which had a few trees. That was the year the Hong Kong Chinese discovered how much money could be made in the Christmas tree market and we never needed to ship them in specially again!
As you can imagine, trees which have been shipped around the world are expensive. When we returned to Asia and Singapore seven years later we decided we would have to give up the idea of a live tree. The high ceilings of tropical homes meant that even if we could afford it we would have a hard time finding a tree which wouldn’t look ridiculously small in the room. So one of the happiest things about returning home (for me) was getting rid of the artificial tree and returning to the messy delights of picking out a new one every year.
There is no finer state to live in than North Carolina when it comes to Christmas Trees. The Fraser Fir is a conical shaped, fragrant tree which grows naturally only in Southern Appalachia in fields above 3000ft. While Scotch pines and Douglas Firs may be popular in other states, in North Carolina the Fraser Fir accounts for 90% of the trees grown. This year, as for many years in the past, the winner of the National Christmas Tree Association Christmas Tree Competition was a tree farm in North Carolina. The winner of this competition supplies the White House Christmas Tree for the Blue Room. North Carolina and its Fraser Firs hold the record for the most competition winners. Peak Farms, the 2012 winner, has presented the White House with an 18’6″ tree. This is the second time they have won. ( In an interesting touch of irony, their first tree was presented to First Lady Laura Bush in 2008).
In previous years, James and I have bought the tree for our Bed and Breakfast in Ashevilleat the Farmer’s Market. This is a pretty good way to buy a tree. The trees are fresh and
there are a lot of them but this year we decided we wanted to go out to a tree farm and cut our own. So we consulted Mark File’s website, Romantic Asheville and chose Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm about 30 minutes away just outside Waynesville.
It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining but it was cold enough to need a jacket and, while the farms are packed on weekends, we pretty much had the fields to ourselves. Boyd Farm has been in the same family for over 150 years. Family members continue to live in log houses overlooking the property. Not only have they been selling Christmas Trees since 1990 but Dan Boyd, grandson of the first owner David Boyd, has also collected a number of original log cabins
from across Appalachia. These cabins have been rebuilt and restored and can be rented seasonally. The farm is beautifully maintained with rows of trees climbing up the hillside to a cabin above. (A young boy who was there with his family warned me not to try to run down the hill. It was steep and I might roll all the way down like he did!). Trees are marked with prices and it is worth checking each one as a small defect will bring the price down. When we found our tree we gave a holler to the men down below and they came up with a small tractor-trailer and a chainsaw (or if you want to do it yourself they have a band-saw handy).
While they wrapped the tree and put it on the car (such luxury to have someone do it for us!), we enjoyed some hot cider and toffee in the tent. The woman there told me that people come from as far away as Florida and Indiana to buy a tree and take it home. I can’t imagine doing that with a tree from a lot–the needles would likely all blow off before you got home–but these trees are so fresh it’s not a worry. I thought at the time, what a wonderful way to spend a weekend: travel through the mountains of Western North Carolina, explore the shops and galleries of Asheville, dine at one of the many excellent restaurants here, then pick out a tree on your way home. And you know what? Yesterday two couples pulled up at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast with two trees in the back of their pick-up, having had exactly that same idea!
(For more pictures of the decorations at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast visit our Facebook Page)