By Anne Young
A few years ago I was bumping along in a bright yellow school bus filled with singing kindergartners and their parents. We were on our way to Oakland Tree Plantation for our annual field trip to pick out a Christmas tree. The bus slowed and turned at the road where the sign with a Christmas tree in a large red apple marks the entrance to Oakland. We pulled into the long gravel road leading to the tree plantation where we were greeted with the sight of rows and rows and rows of evergreen trees.
The kids squealed and wiggled with delight and excitement. As we tumbled out of the bus our boots and untied shoes crunched on the frosted hard grass and soil. I busily zipped up coats and passed out extra mittens and hats that I had packed in my field trip backpack. This is how one of my favorite Christmas memories begins.
After a visit to the residential goats to watch them eat, play, and teeter along on the “skywalk,” the students and I would wait impatiently for the tractor-pulled wagon to come and take us to the fields of trees. After scrabbling up into the wagon and counting 20 chilly red noses, and wiping a few, we would head out. The Blue Ridge Mountains drape themselves in the distance beyond the farm. The low hills and rows of trees provide a lush green that is usually lacking this time of year.
Our goal was to pick a tree to bring back to school to decorate. Finding consensus among 20 five-year-olds was a leap of faith, and there were so many to choose from. We marched around choosing this one or that one, finally settling on a perfectly triangular tree—our cold toes making the decision that it was time to choose a tree quickly. I was handed a bow saw and knelt down to saw away until graciously accepting the offer from a student’s dad to finish the job.
With 500 acres and eight varieties of evergreen trees growing, it is a veritable forest. But the employees direct customers to the kinds that are available and sizes requested. Canaan Fir, Blue Spruce, Wilson Spruce, Concolor Fir, Douglas Fir, White Pine Norway Spruce and Scotch Pine are all available to cut yourself. Customers are provided a bow saw. They can walk, drive or take the wagon to get a tree. The trees are loaded on the wagon and taken back to the barn where they are shaken, baled and measured. They will even tie the tree on your car for you. Some varieties are available up to twelve feet high—so you might need a big car.
Typically, when people look for a fresh cut Christmas tree they are looking for good needle retention, strong branches for hanging ornaments, and a fragrant piney smell. Firs and pines have the best needle retention of the varieties. The Canaan Fir and Douglas fir are some of the best. Most of the trees have strong branches. The Blue Spruce, Concolor, Wilson Spruce, Canaan and Douglas Fir can handle ornaments like that beaded pin cushion Aunt Gertrude made in the 1970s. The smell of fresh pine is evocative of many Christmas memories. The Canaan, the most popular choose-and-cut variety, and the Douglas Fir, give scent to the season.
Fresh cut Virginia grown Fraser firs are available precut in the barn. Fraser firs, known as the Cadillac of Christmas Trees, grow at higher elevations.
Live trees that are dug in December, balled and wrapped in burlap are also sold. Evergreen wreaths, pine roping and other seasonal decor are available for sale in the barn as well. Pricing and pictures are available on their website.
The barn provides some welcoming warmth with cups of steaming hot mulled cider given to visitors—I remember passing out the cider to my chilled students’ mittened hands. Kids even get a Christmas coloring book. This time of year can be so magical. Simple gifts of cider and books lit up the eyes of my joyful, squirming crew.
Oakland Tree Plantation has been making memories like mine for twenty-five years.
The farm opens the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, and is open seven days a week from 9 in the morning until dark. They close December 23—plenty of time to find your perfect Christmas tree and make a new holiday memory.
Oakland Tree Plantation is located at 33 Oakland Lane, Berryville. Contact them at 1-800-727-XMAS or at Oaklandtreeplantation.com.