Christmas In West Sussex - The Horsham Real Christmas Tree Cooperative

A member of the Searle family from Crawley, West Sussex carries a freshly cut Christmas tree on his shoulders after cutting it down at Furze Firs in Horsham. Photo © Scott Ramsey/Nothhelm.com

Furze Firs The Horsham Christmas Tree Growers Cooperative

A few of the many Christmas trees growing at the Furze Firs plantation in Horsham, West Sussex. Photo © Scott Ramsey/Nothhelm.com

When Pete and Sue Barry acquired a patch of land next to their home in Horsham, West Sussex and planted a few Christmas trees, who’d have known some years later, they would have over 17,000 trees and a cooperative of local families who help run their Christmas tree business. The couple moved to Furze View in Slinfold near Horsham 23 years ago. Their home, which they built and raised a family in, overlooked a large field which was used to grow turf. Every few years workers would arrive to cut the turf, but the rest of the time the field was left empty. The thick clay soil, which is common to the area, was not suitable for any other crops, well that's what they thought! "We acquired the land and decided to plant a few Christmas trees. They seemed to love the clay soil which I presume is similar to the soil they naturally grow in back in Georgia," Pete explains. Encouraged by their success in 2009 they planted their first batch of 7,000 trees, but it wasn't easy. Just after the planting, the local area suffered from one of the driest Spring seasons local people had experienced for a long time. With the trees at risk of drying out and dying, the couple had no option but to start watering. It took them three days of hard work to water all 7,000 trees, once finished they then had to start the process all over again. "It was continuous" Sue recalls. Un-deterred the following year they planted a further 10,000 trees, and although they had another dry Spring their new venture, Furze Firs, was well underway. Several growing years later this Horsham business is now into its second year of trading and has become one of the only Christmas Tree growers in West Sussex that allows families to visit their plantation, choose a tree and cut it themselves. 

Joe Gautrey, who helps out at the plantation, checks one of the many Nordmann Fir Christmas Trees growing at the Christmas Tree Plantation at Horsham in West Sussex. Photo © Scott Ramsey/Nothhelm.com

Sue & Pete Barry (right) with a few of their neighbours and family members who make up the Furze Firs Christmas Tree cooperative in Horsham, West Sussex. Photo © Scott Ramsey/Nothhelm.com

The story doesn't end there. Growing Christmas trees on this scale involve's a lot of hard work, but thankfully the couple have some great neighbours. To help with the day to day workload, Pete & Sue joined forces with three families that live in the lane adjacent to the plantation and formed a cooperative. "There's George who's a tree surgeon and Greg who lives just a few doors down who all regularly help out, its a real community effort". This extra help is welcomed especially when the couple explain how much work is required - 
"When we get the trees which are called transplant trees, they are three years old and about a foot tall with a pencil-sized thick trunk. Three years before we get the trees the seeds/cones are collected from a particular place in Georgia where the trees thrive. They are then taken to Southern Denmark and grown into transplant trees and then shipped to us in boxes of 500, so our contractors can plant them. For the next seven years, the trees are left to grow although there's a lot of nurturing needed along the way as each tree needs to be fed regularly and pruned every other year." 

Although the plantation is a managed area, it's also had a positive impact on the environment and the local wildlife. Sue explains "It supports excellent birdlife. We have hedgehogs, green woodpeckers, barn owls who this summer gave birth to three owlets and even a kingfisher who lives nearby. You can often spot red kites flying overhead, and this year we have several very friendly robins who have decided to join us."

It's clear to see the cooperative has been a great success, so much so that more of the families that live along the lane have started to help. Sue explains "Some of our neighbours aren't involved in the business but are happy to join in. They like the community side of it and love helping out. When people arrive to buy a tree, it's really nice to watch the children run off into the trees and hear them shout "I want this one, no this one" as they try to decide which one to cut down and take home. It gives me a real sense of satisfaction but also gives children an outside experience which I don't think they get enough of these days". Pete adds "Yes, if you think of the alternative. It's either having a lovely experience down here for a few hours picking your tree or going to a supermarket and picking one off the shelf. There's no comparison is there? 

And their right, in such a busy and hectic world it's difficult sometimes to find the time to slow down, disconnect from the internet and spend some time having fun. Somehow the Furze Firs cooperative has managed to achieve this. It's a unique place where buying a Christmas Tree has been turned into a real experience. A place you can walk among the trees, listen to the birds sing and get a bit muddy while cutting down your very own Nordmann Fir Christmas Tree, grown with love and care in West Sussex, England, fantastic. Oh yes and the memories come for free.


 
Real Christmas Tree Plantation in Horsham West Sussex

Pete & Sue's Top Tips For Buying A Real Christmas Tree

 

Many of the Christmas trees on sale in garden centres and supermarkets will come from Scotland or Southern Denmark. These trees will have been cut a long time before you buy them and will also have been tightly packed and shipped on lorries, meaning the road and air miles is terrible for the environment. The trees might look nice but have often been sat around for a while, drying out, and won't last as long. If you can, find and buy your tree from a local Christmas tree grower just like Furze Firs. The trees will be fresher and grown locally; it makes a big difference. Pete offers some advice "I think buying a Christmas tree is a personal thing. Some of the best quality and most expensive trees have branches that are sometimes very tight together. They look lovely, but you can't really get presents in there. So have a look at the spacing between the trusses and if you plan to hang Christmas decorations or gifts on the branches pick a tree with plenty of room between each branch." Sue adds, "The ideal tree forms the typical A shape so try and avoid ones that are an odd shape. Also, if you don't have a lot of room in your home choose a tightly packed tree although you won't have as much room for gifts the tree will at least be the right size for your room."

8 Top Tips On How To Buy A Real Christmas Tree That Will Last The Festive Season

  1.  Keep It Local - If you can visit a local Christmas tree grower where you can choose and cut your own tree. It supports a local business, is better for the environment and you will get a tree that lasts longer.
  2.  Christmas Decorations - If you plan to hang homemade Christmas Decorations or put gifts in your tree buy a Christmas Tree with plenty of room between each layer of branches. 
  3.  Size Is Everything - If you don't have a lot of room for a real Christmas tree, choose a compact tree that has its branches tightly packed together. Also, avoid trees with a large skirt (bottom branches) as they can take up a lot of room. And lastly, think about the height. Many new homes don't have high ceilings, and if you start cutting the tree, it will spoil the look of it.
  4. Quality Tree - You can spot a good quality tree by looking at the top truss. Ideally, you want four branches coming out, and they should all be the same angle. 
  5. Choose Your Tree Wisely - Traditionally people would have a Norway Spruce in their homes. These are beautiful trees and smell lovely, but they can't cope with central heating. Pete and Sue recommend the tree variety they grow in Horsham, the Nordmann Fir tree. It's commonly known as a non-drop Christmas Tree and has soft needles that usually stay on the tree longer, if you take care of it, see below.
  6. Water Regularly - Christmas trees are thirsty and will drink up to a pint of water a day, so keep them watered.
  7. Keep Away From Heat - Christmas Trees don't like heat. Keep them well away from a radiator or any other form of heat. The ideal spot is in a cool room or next to a bay window.
  8. Recycle Your Christmas Tree - Many Councils now recycle Christmas trees for you, so please check online. Sue and Pete discovered goats love Fur Trees, so they often take there leftover tree's to the Alexandra Bastedo Champions Animal Sanctuary in West Chiltington, West Sussex. Maybe you can find a local animal sanctuary that would welcome your old Christmas tree in the New Year?