By Barbara Van Reed
“I can't grow them fast enough,” says Dave Morin, owner of Arrowhead Acres in Uxbridge. He's talking about the Christmas trees he produces on the 25 acres devoted to his choose-and-cut tree farm. Though only a few days into December, he says his volume is up 50% from last year. Artificial trees haven't seemed to impact the choose-and-cut tree farms, which are as popular as ever with families who make them an annual Christmas-time destination.
Dave acquired the 49 acres that make up Arrowhead Acres in 1979 and initially ran it as a horse farm. That didn't work out; he tried some other things, and finally decided he'd “better grow something on all that land.” He planted the first trees in 1988. Balsam firs and fraser firs are the most popular varieties and he's planting mostly balsams now, along with a few concolor firs.
The fields contain more than 30,000 Christmas trees: you can cut your own, or the staff will cut it for you, and they will also take care of taking it out of the field, shaking and netting. They will drill a hole into the trunk so that it will be perfectly straight in the tree stand.
Arrowhead Acres is at 92 Aldrich St. in Uxbridge, 508-278-5017, www.arrowheadacres.com. Visit the farm on Saturday or Sundays until Christmas. They open at 9:30 a.m. and ask that you be in the field by 3:30 p.m. to choose your tree.
Another popular tree farm in the Blackstone Valley is 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. Star of the East is located at 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 a few 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, 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. They 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.
Don't have the time or inclination to choose-and-cut a Christmas? In that case, Pete's Oasis in South Grafton might be the place to go. Pete Boutiette's place is probably best known for pumpkins, which he plants in a four-acre patch behind his nursery every year, and for the hundreds of baskets and pots of annuals and perennials he grows in his greenhouse in the spring. But at Christmas time he brings balsam firs down from Nova Scotia. The trees are cut seven days at the most before they arrive, says Pete, and they are all of premium quality. He'll reject a load if they are not up to his standards. His inventory includes small table-tops to 9-10 footers. And, he will cut the bottom off and tie the tree onto your car.
Pete's Oasis also sells poinsettias, wreaths, roping, and cemetery baskets. “We decorate the wreaths and cemetery baskets ourselves,” he says. “And we have free cider and cookies on weekends.” The store is located at 394 Providence Road (Rt. 122) in sunny South Grafton. “It never rains at Pete's Oasis,” he explains. The phone number is 508-839-2398.
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.
Note from a reader: Dan, who read our Christmas tree story in the December 1 issue of the Yankee Shopper, called to tell us that we had neglected to mention Luks Tree Farm in Auburn. He explained that he and his family have been cutting their tree there for twenty years and he thinks it's the best.
The 10-acre Luks Tree Farm has been operated by Richard and Linda Luks for more than 50 years. It is at 38 Laurel St. in Auburn. Phone 508-832-5250 for more information.