What trees are grown?
By the early 1990s Christmas tree growers had realised that to compete with plastic, they had to produce a wider range of better quality trees. We decided to grow seventeen different species in our first trial plantation and negotiated a contract with a nursery to supply us with seedlings, free of charge, for the first six years. In return the nursery would be able to use our trial in its publicity material and bring other Christmas tree growers - its customers - to Wakehurst to see for themselves the performance of the more unusual species.
The nursery's manager, Adrian Morgan, also became our consultant and managed to supply some of the rarer trees that we wanted including the Koyama spruce, Picea koyamae, from Japan, where there are only several hundred left in the wild, and the giant redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum, from California, better known as a stately 50 metre tree than gracing a living room. Morgan's favorite was the Fraser fir, Abies fraseri, named after a Scottish explorer, John Fraser (1750 - 1811) who introduced it to Europe. In the wild, Fraser fir is found only at the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains of eastern USA where, in recent years a large proportion of trees has been killed by an insect pest, Adelges piceae, introduced from Europe. Despite this pest, Fraser firs are popular with American Christmas tree growers and Morgan felt it would be a particularly good species for UK growers in the drier south-eastern counties.
Our choice of trees reflected their ability to retain their needles while having a distinctive form, colour or fragrance. Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, for example, was chosen for its highly scented foliage and because, when pruned, it can produce a very dense tree. White fir, Abies concolor, has softer, longer needles and a blue variety was also included. Morgan had to persuade us to grow Scots pine, Pinus syIvestris, and the lodgepole pine, P. contorta, because despite being needlefast they need skilful shearing if they are to make the very bushy small trees modern customers like. We agreed that at least 40 per cent of our crop should be the traditional Norway spruce, Picea abies, and 20 per cent would be the best known, but expensive, needlefast species, the Nordman fir, A. nordmanniana, and noble fir, A. procera. For the remainder we decided to speculate on a number of lesser-known species including the Korean fir, A. koreana, which, with white resin-covered buds, comes partially decorated; blue spruce, Picea pungens var. glauca, which is variable but can have a beautiful silver-blue colour; and Veitch fir, A. veitchii, a Japanese species which had never been tried in the UK as a Christmas tree.