Behind the scenes at the British Christmas Tree Company in Whalley
PUBLISHED: 09:51 10 December 2018 | UPDATED: 09:38 14 December 2018
Nothing sums up Christmas like the smell of a real tree and one man has founded a business thanks to our passion for pine.
When British people were surveyed about their favourite fragrance, the scent of a real Christmas tree came in at number eight, just ahead of perfume and just behind the smell of the sea. No wonder, retailers sell seven million each year.
‘It’s my number one, although to be picky about it, every variety has its own distinct scent and I can distinguish most of them,’ says Chris Day of The British Christmas Tree Company. His Whalley-based business has clients who include the BBC, Chatsworth House, Gatcombe Park and Blenheim Palace.
He has been growing Christmas trees in Whalley since 1997 and now has a reputation as one of the country’s top suppliers. But what made him select Whalley for his venture?
‘My family were wholesale flower growers in the area so it wasn’t a massive jump, especially for a guy like me who absolutely loves Christmas. Fate gave me a push when this three-acre site became available and so, I loaded up 1,000 trees onto a truck followed by another, less sweet smelling, truck of horse manure. I planted each one, crossed my fingers and it transpired Christmas trees love Whalley soil,’ laughs Chris, who as well as continuing to grow his own trees now also sells bought-in varieties, both cut and potted, to stock one of the widest ranges around.
Chris provides Christmas trees to garden centres all over England but his favourite time is the first weekend in December when people start to come arrive in Whalley to choose their tree.
‘They come from as far as Birmingham and, over the years, I’ve seen it become a family event. People bring flasks of hot chocolate and take their time looking for that perfect tree.
‘ Every year though, inevitably, a family picks out what they think will be a great tree for them but continue exploring because it’s a fun thing to do – only to realise they can’t find the original tree or someone else has bagged it,’ says Chris who is seriously thinking about giving out different coloured ribbons to use as a marker.
As well as handing out advice about how not to lose your tree, Chris is also on hand to advise about the best type of tree for each customer, depending on how long they want it to last, if they have pets and how warm their home is.
‘One Christmas tradition that never goes away is the red-faced family who return a tree because it is far too large for their house. In the open, trees will always look smaller than in your sitting room, so always measure the height of your ceiling and not forgetting that a fairy will add another few inches.
‘And don’t overlook the width either. You don’t want one unfortunate guest to be imprisoned behind branches while they tuck into their Christmas pudding.’
Chopping down trees seems to bring out the frustrated lumberjack in some. ‘Obviously, we cut down and net trees for customers but sometimes people – almost always chaps – like to cut their own while the rest of the family shout “Timber”. It’s all done in a safe environment – touch Christmas tree wood, no accidents happen,’ says Chris
Chris picks out his own Christmas tree in late summer but doesn’t take it home until Christmas Eve. ‘I’m just too busy. We’re open every day in December until the 23rd and, by the time everything is done and dusted, that’s the earliest I can manage.’
But how does he keep busy all year around because the Christmas tree season is a short one?
‘I grow palm trees across the road! They require a lot more TLC than my Christmas trees. Some are quite hardy but, let’s be realistic, this is Lancashire and many is the night, especially last winter, when I had to get up at 3am to go out and change the gas heating bottle armed with a torch and wearing a dressing gown,’ says Chris who has made the enterprise a huge success and who finds that some folk even buy one at Christmas.
‘A palm trunk is a good base for fairy lights, but for me, Christmas isn’t Christmas without a sweet smelling Christmas tree,’ he says.