With a name like Chris Day, you could say it is his destiny to help you, me and Princess Anne prepare for Christmas 2018.
The Whalley businessman has made a name for himself in the field of festivity by growing and delivering real Yuletide trees to homes up and down the country, including Princess Anne’s grand country residence, Gatcombe Park.
At The British Christmas Tree Company, Clitheroe Street, Whalley, manager Chris, 46, and partner Claire work around the clock, all year round.
He said: “The trees are special to me because my family had one every year when we were growing up.
“You’d have the whole family arranged around it. It really brought people together, and that’s what Christmas is all about.
“The aroma is also special, as it instantly makes you relax, and the tree itself is a symbolic shape. It’s iconic.”
Chris began growing the firs and spruces 25 years ago – and he learnt quickly.
“We’re completely self-taught and didn’t have much time in the beginning,” he said. “So we had to learn by doing it wrong!”
But it all paid off. Today he has huge contracts, providing trees not only to international horse shows, but to majestic venues like: Upton House; Bramham Park; Chatsworth House in the Peak District; Princess Anne’s Gatcombe Park; and Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“We’re really honoured to do the job and be asked back every year. We work hard to do it right, ” Chris said. “People travel from as far as Birmingham to get one of our trees.”
The environmental dangers of importing trees are another consideration when it comes to buying home-grown stock. Tens of thousands of trees are sourced from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe by British sellers yearly. But with risks of diseases like ash dieback being brought over with imported trees, it’s now more important than ever to support local growers.
Ash dieback is caused by a fungus called Hymenoscyphus fraxineus which creates dark lesions on trees and is often fatal. There is currently no known cure or efficient prevention. Infected trees can become unstable and prone to falling, which is why thousands were chopped down in the UK in October.
So it’s no easy task to grow and care for these festive spruces. In fact, Chris’ stock for November and December was planted seven to eight years ago, and could grow to an enormous 50 or 60ft.
But the entrepreneur and his family, who are originally from Nelson, aren’t fazed by the challenge. Nature is their passion.
The company was born out of another family business in flower wholesales, which Chris’ dad, Michael Day, set up in the late 1970s when he was just 25-years-old.
“We’ve always loved nature and lived towards the edge of town close to countryside,” Chris said.
“My mum and dad own the land and we wanted to do something natural which would keep us going through winter.”
Today, their company sells six varieties of seasonal trees: Nordmann fir; Norway spruce; Fraser fir; lodgepole pine; blue spruce; and Korean fir.
“We’ve had a difficult year as the weather’s been really dry,” Chris said. “We’ve struggled with the young shoots and we’ve lost about 20% of them because of the long, dry summer.”
Despite this, Chris has had a dose of international success selling a much hardier tree: palms.
While they might usually conjure images of one too many glasses of sangria in exotic locations, palm trees can actually survive in temperatures as low as -15°C and usually grow to 20ft in the UK.
Fashion giant Mulberry has been snapping them up to create luxurious displays in their stores all over Europe, from Paris to London’s stylish Bond Street and Covent Garden.
Chris’ palms have also been the stars of an episode of TV’s Love Your Garden, with green-fingered legend Alan Titchmarsh.
Chris said: “What they create in a garden is an uplifting emotion, reminding people of good times, summer adventures, holidays, hot tubs and BBQs with a glass of wine.
“They create an incredible atmosphere and people love being transported back to happy times.”
The UK’s top two Christmas trees:
Name: Norway spruce
Life-span: up to 1000 years.
Appearance: bright green; tall, straight and triangular. It can grow up to 40m. The leaves are square-shaped and pointed, with fine white speckles and a sweet smell.
Fun facts: It was popularised as a Christmas tree by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, when he introduced an old German custom of decorating a spruce tree with lights in 1841.
In Greek mythology, the spruce is dedicated to Artemis, goddess of the moon.
Name: Nordmann fir
Life-span: more than 50 years
Appearance: dark green; around 4500cm tall. It is shapely and not too bushy, with plenty of space between the branches.