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Why I dressed as an elf to help at Blairgowrie Christmas tree farm

Pick-your-own and have a fantastic festive family day out at Sholach Christmas Tree Farm in Perthshire. reports.
Gayle Ritchie
The elves at Sholach Christmas Tree Farm are extremely helpful! Pictured are Kelly McIntyre, Gayle Ritchie and farm owner Willie McIntyre. Image: Kim Cessford.
The elves at Sholach Christmas Tree Farm are extremely helpful! Pictured are Kelly McIntyre, Gayle Ritchie and farm owner Willie McIntyre. Image: Kim Cessford.

It’s one of the most exciting festive rituals – heading to a Christmas tree farm, picking your favourite fir or spruce, taking it home, decorating it with fairy lights, baubles and tinsel and sticking an angel on top.

Of course, not all of us fancy an authentic tree, but I reckon there’s something pretty special about choosing the real deal.

I popped along to Sholach Christmas Tree Farm near Blairgowrie one sunny afternoon as staff were preparing for the festive rush.

It was all hands on deck and I found myself quickly transformed into one of Santa’s little helpers, aka, Gayle the Elf.

It’s a proper family business, managed throughout the year by three generations of McIntyres.

Gayle and Kelly McIntyre transformed into elves. Image: Kim Cessford.

While Willie manages the farm, his sister Kelly looks after marketing and online, her son Conall helps during harvest time, and mum Jean does the finances.

The setting is absolutely magical, above little-known Marlee loch and with extensive views of the surrounding Perthshire countryside.

It’s a brilliant place to visit with family and friends. Not only can you wander through the vast forest of Christmas trees, but you can check out Kelly’s wreaths – which are also for sale, along with hand-crafted table decorations.

Pick your tree

Heading deep into the woods, Kelly and Willie encourage me to pick out a tree that appeals (they all look fabulous), and, of course, one that will fit into my house.

They come in all shapes and sizes, starting at 3ft and reaching up to impressive 18ft.

Kelly helps Gayle to pick out a tree. Image: Kim Cessford.

It’s hard to pick out “the one”, but eventually I fall for a six foot beauty that I can well imagine taking pride of place in my lounge.

It doesn’t take long for Willie to cut my tree down with a chainsaw and it’s then up to Kelly (also dressed as an elf) and me to carry it back to be netted in a special machine before it’s graded for size and stacked.

Willie cuts down a tree while Gayle watches. Image: Kim Cessford.

Unless you’ve got a trailer, the chances are you’ll need Willie to deliver your tree – I await the arrival of mine with great excitement.

There are 25,000 trees planted here, and the McIntyres sell around 2,000 each year.

They’re hugely eco-conscious, always planting at least one tree, and probably two, for each one cut.

Range of sizes at Christmas tree farm

“It can take eight to 10 years to grow a six foot tree,” says Kelly.

“The idea is that we have a succession of different sized trees. Every year we have a range of sizes, as well as some we grow in pots.

Sholach Christmas Trees delivers all over. Image: Kim Cessford.

“The most popular are six, or seven foot, but folk with high ceilings go for the eight and nine foot ones.”

Sholach also supply trees to big venues – Dunkeld Cathedral has ordered one, and the village of Stanley will soon have one standing proud in its square.

Journey to becoming a Christmas tree

The journey of getting trees ready for customers is a long, complex process. It starts with the farm buying young trees from a reputable nursery and leaving them to grow for a few years.

They take a lot of looking after. Left in their natural environment, the trees here – Colorado blue spruce, Nordmann, Noble, Fraser and Bornmuller firs – would look nothing like the majestic icons we’re used to.

So many trees to choose from. Image: Kim Cessford.

The chances are they would be nibbled on by aphids and without the right kind of nurturing, they’d become thin and spindly.

“If they were just left in the wild, you wouldn’t recognise them as Christmas trees,” says Kelly, a co-director at Sholach.

“These trees have been fertilised, sheared and hand-pruned. They need a bit of help to get that iconic Christmas tree shape.

Gayle and Kelly carry a tree back to base while Willie follows on with his chainsaw. Image: Kim Cessford.

Types of trees

“Nordmann fir tends to be everybody’s favourite because the needles don’t drop. And spruce has such a beautiful smell.

“I’m also a fan of Noble fir, and we’ve got another, fluffier species – Fraser fir – that folk have been asking for.”

So how do people keep their trees looking good for as long as possible?

Kelly advises ensuring they’re well-watered – ideally get your hands on a water holding stand – and don’t have them sitting next to radiators or fires.

“If you look after them, they won’t dry up, drop their needles and look like skeletons!” she smiles.

Willie and Gayle net a tree. Image: Kim Cessford.

Once they’ve done their job, you can put them in your garden, recycle them, or turn the branches into bird feeders and bug hotels.

Making wreaths

Kelly uses fresh foliage to make wreaths, and she invites me to join her in a mini-workshop.

She helps me make one using sprigs of eucalyptus, ivy, Nordmann fir, Noble fir, Scots pine and holly berries. It looks stunning.

Gayle and Kelly make a wreath. Image: Kim Cessford.

“I run workshops commercially in the community and they’re a lot of fun,” she tells me.

“I’m always making wreaths, simple table centres, little present wrappers and toppers, and there’ll be a selection for sale.

Trees ready for delivery. Image: Kim Cessford.

Perfect family day out at Blairgowrie Christmas Tree Farm

“People love coming here. We’re dog-friendly, kids can run up and down through the trees, you can walk down by the loch, and if you’re crazy like us, you can go in for a swim!”

Kelly, who also works as a professional photographer and videographer, entered the “best short film” category of an annual competition run by the British Christmas Tree Growers Association in 2020.

After winning it, the farm was invited to supply the Foreign Office with one of their trees, a 16ft Nordmann fir.

They make most of their deliveries locally but also sell trees in London and Glasgow.

Gayle makes a wreath under Kelly’s watchful eye. Image: Kim Cessford.
  • Established in 1992 by Kelly and Willie’s dad, William, Sholach Christmas Tree Farm features everything from young saplings planted this year to decades-old 18ft trees. When William passed away in 2012, the family carried on working for the business.