collage of decorated Christmas tree

Why we aren’t selling Christmas Decorations in 2021

I was passing though a gift shop the other day (the only exit from any museum/historic house/visitor attraction) when I noticed their Christmas decorations on display. To be precise, a frying pan containing bacon and eggs. My initial shock at why anyone would pay £9.99 to hang a frying pan on their Christmas tree was swiftly followed by the welcome relief that I no longer sell Christmas decorations.

People are already asking about opening dates* for the Christmas Tree Barn and decorations shop, so I should explain why we aren’t selling Christmas decorations in 2021 and only selling Christmas trees.

berries baubles and cup in front of books

Three years ago, Ruth and I did our usual tour of the Christmas shop before we opened for the day. Our sales had increased over the previous few years as we’d sussed what our customers wanted and how best to display it. We were halfway through the season, so there was a little rearranging to fill some gaps and reposition the decorations that weren’t selling. The baubles twinkled and row upon row of pretty decorations dangled next to shelves where Father Christmas figures and Nutcracker soldiers jostled with stuffed moose and mice for space.

As she rearranged some twiggy hedgehogs, Ruth questioned why we were selling them. The answer (of course) was because they were popular and sold well. We looked at them. Sure, they were cute. But some of the twigs were coming adrift, the glitter was shedding and the nose wasn’t glued on very well. We looked around us.

To be blunt, although there were plenty of beautiful decorations, some of the cheap and cheerful ones were likely destined for landfill after Christmas. The storeroom was filled with waste cardboard, plastic and cellophane packaging, the floor dusted with plastic glitter that had fallen from the ornaments. A large box contained the decorations we’d rejected because they were broken on arrival or of such poor quality that they bore little resemblance to the samples we’d been shown earlier in the year.

It all seemed such a waste. All year we tried to keep to the 5Rs mantra of Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle but that was totally forgotten in the Christmas shop. There and then, we vowed to have a more sustainable Christmas shop.

The following year we asked questions at the trade shows, instead of simply marvelling at the impressive displays, but the reps shrugged their shoulders at questions of provenance. It appeared that everything was shipped straight from China with no questions asked. They laughed when we said we wanted to avoid glitter and excess packaging. They didn’t care.

We had fewer decorations in the Christmas shop that year, but they were of good quality and could be used year after year, even if they were a bit glittery and we had no idea what conditions they were made under. We replaced the cheap, glued felt decorations with ethically produced Fairtrade ones and found baubles made from glass, metal, paper and wood. Local makers supplied hand-made decorations, jewellery, gifts and cards. There were Christmas themed printmaking classes, a local florist ran wreath-making classes and of course, there were hundreds of fresh Christmas trees to buy just across the yard in The Christmas Tree Barn.

As expected, it didn’t suit all our customers and profits dipped. But we felt it was a positive move that we could build on and in January 2020 started to work out how we’d connect with customers who shared our ethos and made plans for a more sustainable Christmas at Slamseys Barley Barn that focussed on crafts and making, more heirlooms and less landfill.

Ah, yes. 2020.

Unsurprisingly, nothing went to plan and we opened only for a brief Bargain Sale in a lull between lockdowns.

The pandemic has altered our lives and our attitudes. Our priorities have changed and we’ve learnt that there are things we can easily do without. I’m unsure how many people want to visit a shop to buy Christmas decorations this year, whether they’re ethically produced or not, and who knows what will happen next year. So, we’ve closed the shop permanently and donated all our remaining stock to local groups and charities. Maybe there’ll be something happening in The Barley Barn in the future, but it definitely won’t be a Christmas decorations shop.

*The Christmas Tree Barn at Slamseys opens on 26 November 2021.

You might be interested to read this article about the production of Christmas decorations.


Christmas trees growing in plantation

How to Choose a Christmas Tree 2020

Families often start the festive celebrations by heading out together to choose a tree from their local Christmas Tree Farm but 2020 will be different.

Current lockdown restrictions in England mean that Christmas tree farms are required by law to close until 3rd December, which is a bit of a blow, especially as our local supermarket is (legally) selling Christmas trees next to the fish counter. Crazy isn’t it? The good news is that we can offer a Click-and-Collect service, which allows our customers to pre-order a tree and select one from the display when they arrive to collect it.

(Update 21 Nov) I’m delighted to say that we are now allowed to open for the sale of Christmas trees and would like to thank our local councillor for his work helping to get the rules changed .

If you’re Clicking-and-Collecting or planning to visit a Christmas Tree Farm, here are some tips from Slamseys for How to Choose the Perfect Christmas Tree in 2020.

The best time to buy a real Christmas tree

Christmas celebrations seem to get earlier every year and this year some British Christmas tree sellers have reported record sales for the beginning of November. It’s been such a dismal year that people have already started to put up their decorations but trees are living things and it’s a bit much to expect them to sit in a hot house for six weeks and still look wonderful for Christmas week.

Most Christmas Tree sellers open for the last weekend of November but many growers like us continue to cut trees throughout December so unless you always put up your tree on the first Sunday of Advent (29th November), wait until December to buy your tree.

Slamseys Christmas Tree Barn will open on Friday 27th November.

Measure up before you buy

Measure the height of the room where your tree will stand rather than taking a wild guess and then cutting off the top half. Add on an allowance for your tree topper and your tree stand. At Slamseys, the trees are displayed in clearly marked height ranges, which makes it easy to choose the right height tree.

Shop a different way

In a normal year, the start of the Christmas season for many families is the day they put on their Christmas hats or antlers and spend ages with grandparents, aunts and uncles choosing the perfect tree. Maybe this year you could elect one person to collect the Christmas tree and celebrate the start of the season when the Christmas tree is brought home. Switch on the Christmas music, heat the mince pies and pour a celebratory drink as the tree is carried through the door. Or buy the tree while the children are at school and let them discover it when they get home and carry it in to decorate.

Duplo man holding Christmas twig. Shop alone 2020

This year, it’s essential to check how you can buy your Christmas tree as many Christmas tree sellers are not allowed to open in the normal way under current Covid regulations. You might be able to use a Click-and-Collect Service or you might need to wait until after 3rd December to visit in the normal way.

The Christmas Tree Farm you visit might look different this year. At Slamseys, we’ve changed the layout of the barn for improved social distancing and have a new display system that makes it easy to choose a tree without removing it from the rack. We’re limiting the number of people in the barn and may ask our customers to queue outside if they come at the busy weekend times. But you can still choose from hundreds of premium Christmas trees.

You can find a list of British growers and sellers at British Christmas Tree Growers Association

Which is the best type of Christmas tree? Nordman Fir or Norway Spruce?

Our customers’ favourite tree is the Nordman Fir with its dark green, glossy foliage and good needle retention. The soft needles make it an ideal Christmas tree in homes with young children or pets and there won’t be too many needles to sweep up if you keep the tree cool and watered.

The Norway Spruce is the traditional Christmas tree with a wonderful smell and shape though the needles are prone to fall off at the merest knock if you stuff a Norway Spruce tree in a hot room for weeks and don’t water it. Norway Spruce are lovely trees if you take them inside for only a couple of weeks or want a fabulous tree to display outside.

How to choose the best tree for you

Are you looking for a pot grown tree or cut tree?

A tree planted as a seedling and grown in the pot (as opposed to one dug out of the ground and put into a pot) can be planted out in the garden after Christmas if it’s only taken inside for a week (or two at most) and kept cool. Pot grown trees are usually sold at no than about 140 cms high, so aren’t suitable if you’re looking for a large tree. If you plan to grow your tree on, remember that they grow to over 5 metres.

You should be able to buy a cut tree in any size from about 90 centimetres to over 3 metres high and they’ll cost you less than a pot grown tree of a comparable size.

Christmas trees growing in a plantation in a range of sizes

A good Christmas tree seller will offer Nordman Firs and Norway Spruce in a range of heights and shapes, so go to the section that has trees in the height you’re looking for and find a tree that you like (or just grab the first one because by the time you’ve decorated it, you probably won’t notice the shape). Some people like dense trees while others like well spaced branches so there’s room for baubles to dangle.

Ask your seller to give the tree a shake before they wrap it in netting. If heaps of needles fall to the floor, reject it and choose another.

Taking the Christmas tree home

Christmas tree twig in toy car

Before you set off to collect your Christmas tree, clear a space in the car for it and protect your car upholstery with an old sheet or blanket. You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t know how to put down the seats in their car or try to cram a tree into a car already loaded with shopping or dogs or children. Or sometimes all three. Be prepared!

Keep your Christmas tree looking good

At home, saw a slice from the bottom of the trunk so that the tree can take up water (like cut flowers), remove the netting (some needles will fall off as they get caught in the netting) and stand the tree outside in a bucket of water for a few hours.

When you take your tree inside, put it in an appropriately sized stand. You can try wedging it in a bucket, but a well-designed stand makes the process much easier. Don’t try to cram the tree into a stand that’s too small as cutting off great chunks of the trunk restricts water uptake and the tree may topple over if it’s in a stand designed for a smaller tree. Your stand should be marked with a safe height guide. Protect the floor from water spills with a large tray or waterproof mat.

Make sure your tree is standing straight and firmly secured in the stand. Trim any straggly branches and if your tree sticks out too far into the room, cut back the branches at the rear; nobody will notice unless you turn the tree around. Fill the stand with water and top it up regularly so that your tree doesn’t dry out.

And finally …

Drape the lights, hang the baubles and balance a star (or angel or fairy or whatever takes your fancy) on the top of the tree. Stand back and admire. What a beautiful tree.

Don’t forget to recycle your tree at the end of Christmas. Your local council may have a recycling service or there may be a local charity who raise funds by collecting trees and recycling them.

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Buy your Christmas tree from Slamseys

Recycle your tree and raise funds for Farleigh Hospice


Christmas tree

Carrying home the Christmas tree

No matter how prepared we think we are, the first day of selling Christmas trees always sneaks up and almost catches us out. All week Bill and Jack have filled the Christmas Tree Barn with trees, set out the tree stands  and hung up the first wreaths  on the display board. There was a slight panic today when we couldn’t find the Christmas lights but now everything is in place ready to open the Christmas Tree Barn tomorrow for the 2016 season.

It’s good to welcome back old customers and meet new ones, especially when they’re a new generation of families that have been coming here for decades though it makes me feel old when a proud mother wheels in a pushchair and it feels hardly any time since her mother did the same thing.

New customers, particularly those who’ve never bought a real Christmas tree before, often phone us before they visit as they worry about how they’ll transport their tree home. We explain that once a tree is netted, it doesn’t take up much room and unless it’s particularly large it will probably fit in their car, especially if the back seats can be laid flat. That said, we’ve seen trees disappearing down the drive in many different ways.

carrying home the Christmas tree

One year, a chap turned up on a bicycle and strapped the tree to his saddle and wheeled it away (though he hasn’t been back with his bike since). There are a few families who regularly walk here and carry their tree back between them, some people arrive in a large van while others tow a small trailer. Possibly the most romantic, especially if there’s snow, is the family that pile into a trailer that’s towed by a vintage tractor.

carry-home-the-christmas-tree-sports-car

Convertible cars seem another popular option; once the roof is lowered, the tree can be slid into the front seat and safely strapped into place. Unfortunately, this usually means the passenger has to walk home.

 

Carrying home the Christmas Tree on a Land Rover

But for many people, the only way to carry home the Christmas Tree is to strap it to the top of the car. Christmas music playing on the stereo is compulsory along with Christmas jumpers and festive hats.

If you’re planning to get your tree soon, there’s some tips below.

how to choose a wonderful Christmas tree

 

Do you have a preferred way to carry home your Christmas Tree?

Or maybe you have an artifical tree or don’t have one at all.

Do tell.


Choosing a Christmas Tree

Choosing a Christmas tree

It was interesting to read Sam’s account (at A Coastal Plot) of buying her Christmas tree because it’s not something I ever do. So, in contrast, here’s the view from the other side of the sales counter. Our visitors’ ages range from babes in arms to the very aged. We have customers who love every glittering moment of Christmas celebrations and those who profess to detest the whole shebang. Let me introduce you to some of them.

The Perfectionist

Selina wafts into the barn in fur lined boots, layered knits and a cloud of expensive perfume. She heads straight for the eight foot trees and within moments has one of the Christmas Barn staff pulling out every tree in that section for her scrutiny. Trees that don’t meet her high standards are instantly dismissed until the choice is whittled down to two specimens which are rotated for her so she can view them from every angle. Decision made, she’ll ask for a few stray branches to be trimmed and a slice to be sawn from the base and then the tree is netted and taken to her car while Selina visits The Barley Barn to choose decorations.

Selina is a firm believer in perpetuating the myth that the Christmas tree is decorated by the tree fairies while children are at school and so her tree is beautifully co-ordinated with every bauble and light strategically placed and not a child produced cotton wool decorated snowman in sight. Sometimes Selina buys a small tree for her children to decorate but allows them only to buy decorations in this year’s colour scheme. And definitely nothing as tacky as a felt penguin or glittery peacock.

Man in the Van

Dave strides in five minutes before the Christmas Barn closes for the day under instructions from “the wife” to pick up a tree on his way home. He picks the first tree on the end of the row, pulls out a roll of notes to pay for it, doesn’t bother to have the tree netted because he’s in the work van and is out of the barn before closing time. Job done.

The Ditherers

Babs and Brian choose their Christmas tree so that it can be up by the first of December. Babs would like an enormous tree but Brian would like a smaller tree. Babs wants a Nordman Fir so that the cat doesn’t poke its eye on sharp spruce needles but Brian prefers the smell of the Norway Spruce.

After a spirited discussion and perusal of the available trees, they compromise and decide to have an average height tree. Babs take charge, looking for “the one” while Brian trails behind. She dismisses all the Norway spruce as unsuitable and picks out a Nordman fir for Brian to hold, so that nobody else can take it, while she continues her search. Eventually Babs narrows her choice to four trees, which Brian guards and then has to hold up each in turn for her inspection, while keeping a close eye on the other three. Brian doesn’t appear to notice that someone has taken away one of the trees and then he mistakenly puts one back on the rack and loses track of it.

With only two to choose between, Babs finally decides and then, just to check, swaps places with Brian so he can confirm her choice. Not surprisingly, Brian agrees almost immediately that she has found the perfect tree.

The Jolly Family

Derek and Eileen have been coming here for nearly fifty years. They don’t like driving nowadays so their son and his family bring them along to continue the tradition of starting the Christmas season by choosing the Christmas tree en famille. This year they’ve been joined by their first great grandchild in one of those new-fangled car seats that turn into a pushchair.

Derek and Eileen no longer buy a Christmas tree but instead choose wreaths to lay on their parents’ graves while the younger generations, clad in their Christmas jumpers and jingling reindeer antlers, pick their trees amidst much jollity and photo snapping on their phones. There isn’t room in one of the cars for a tree and passengers so Derek and Eileen’s grandson puts down the roof of his Mini convertible, straps the Christmas tree into the passenger seat and drives off with a toot of his horn to his grandparents.

And also …

There is one family who always choose the ugliest tree they can find because otherwise nobody will pick it and it will have a sad Christmas all alone and another family who like to Lucky Dip by picking a tree that’s still in its net.

Mostly though, we have a steady stream of happy people spreading the Christmas spirit.

 


Christmas Barn at Slamseys

On the farm in December

On the farm, there’s not much to do in the fields apart from keeping the pigeons off the oilseed rape crop, which means the gas guns need checking to make sure there’ll still working and haven’t been vandalised or stolen, the scarecrows and various whirling, blowing and flapping devices need moving around the field and standing up after they’ve been blown over in the wind. The rest of our time is spent working with the Christmas trees.

Christmas tree barn at Slamseys

This weekend will be our busiest of the season. The Christmas Tree Barn has been filled with Christmas trees and the netting machines are lined up ready for action.

Christmas decorations at Slamseys

The Barley Barn is filled with reindeer headbands, decorations and Slamseys Gin.

vintage corner

There are vintage items to investigate

photo props

and photo props. Should you need some.

5 steps to a wonderful Christmas Tree

And if you haven’t bought your Christmas tree yet, here’s quick guide to making sure you buy a wonderful Christmas tree this year.