Offbeat

By Alex Matthews


As family trees go this is an impressive achievement – as possibly the UK’s oldest Christmas tree farm is passing into its third generation.

Tim Smith, 56, took over Fred Smith Christmas Trees from his father Fred, who began selling trees to his neighbours and friends in 1959.

Pic by Caters News

The business took off when Tim started helping Fred as a small boy, and the family continue to sell hundreds of trees and mistletoe almost six decades later.

Children have always been involved in the business from an early age and now Tim’s children Penny, 25, and George, 23, are stepping in to keep the tradition going.

Run from their £400,000 family home near Colchester, Essex, the pair are now selling trees planted by their grandfather over 30 years ago.

The Smiths are not the only family keeping with tradition, as they are now serving the children and even grandchildren of some of their first ever customers.

Tim said: “Christmas time is such a wonderful time of year. It’s hectic for us, and we are non-stop up until Christmas Eve, but it is great fun.

“The best part of it is serving people who are coming along with their children and grandchildren when they themselves used to come here as kids. It makes the whole business feel like a much larger family.

“Over the years we have sold thousands of trees. Right now, we’re selling some that I helped my dad plant when I was still in school over 30 years ago. It’s a strange feeling, but very nice.

“I’m really pleased my children are stepping up and helping me out. It is important to us to keep the farm going. Christmas is a family time and this like our own tradition.

Pic by Caters News

“I started helping my dad Fred as soon as I could walk and my children have done the same thing. They could have flown the nest and gone elsewhere but the fact they have stayed is special.

“We do not employ anyone. We have managed to keep everything in the family.”

Fred Smith began his business complete by chance when, in the 1950s, he was offered a few pine trees by a friend to plant on his farm. He was primarily a grower of cabbages, potatoes and carrots.

To Fred and his wife Maureen’s surprise, they grew extremely well and, in 1959, he began selling them to friends and neighbours.

Pretty soon, selling Christmas trees became a major part of the business, although Fred kept other parts of the farm going to make money throughout the year.

Tim said: “My dad was surprised by how well the trees took to the ground, but when people started asking if they could have one for Christmas he began selling them.

“The retail side of it really took off in 1961, the same year I was born.

“When me and my brother were nine years old we used to work on the farm selling trees at the weekends. We would take and count money and help with digging up the trees.

“It became a family tradition and I decided to stay and take over the farm from my dad. We bought some of the surrounding land and expanded and we’re still having a really good go at it nearly 60 years later. It makes me feel proud.

Pic by Caters News

“My dad has since passed away but my mum Maureen is still here helping, as well as my wife Beverley.

“We remember so many of the customers, who stop and have a nice chat with us. It makes Christmas time more special.”

Tim’s children started helping their dad and granddad out from the age of four, riding around on tractors and learning all about looking after the trees.

Tim said: “They both wanted to help out when they were very young and here they are still pitching in now. They would help with putting up signs and ride around on the tractors, and have got more and more involved as they have got older.

“It takes a lot of work to prepare the ground and plant them, but we keep ourselves busy with other work throughout the year too. I’m a delivery driver and we help out on other farms.

“But selling trees and mistletoe is what we are really about. It’s the time of year we all look forward to.”

Fred Smith’s Christmas Trees also donate trees to Colchester General Hospital and St Helena Hospice each year.