Troway Hall Nursery - a visit to Christmas tree heaven in North East Derbyshire
11:06 02 December 2015
Derbyshire Life visits Troway where they’re getting ready to supply thousands of households with one of our most-loved traditions
When Derbyshire businesswoman Gloria Havenhand gets close up and personal with her many thousands of Christmas trees, she is in olfactory heaven.
‘I can’t resist squeezing the needles to release their distinctive, fresh clean smell,’ she says. ‘It’s like taking in a trip to the Arctic.’
Gloria owns Troway Hall Christmas Tree Nursery in North East Derbyshire and grows forests of Spruce, Nordmann, Noble and the highly perfumed American Frazer fir tree, across three separate valleys at sites in the Peak District.
It’s the start of the busiest time of year for this super fit septuagenarian who has been labelling up trees at Troway ready for the Christmas rush.
Generations of Derbyshire families and visitors from a 200 mile radius make a pilgrimage to the nursery during the winter season to pick out their tree.
‘It’s a huge part of our year. We look forward to it so much and time and time again we hear from customers that coming here signifies the start of their festive season.’
To ensure it’s a good one and that business keeps booming Gloria’s team of about fifteen seasonal staff keep a huge log fire roaring in the 15 feet long open fire place at the nursery. There’s fireside seating, trees adorned with lights, carols piped in the background and this year several brass bands have been brought in to provide live entertainment.
‘We have become a real Derbyshire tradition,’ said Gloria. ‘It’s a place where time has stood still and everybody loves it!’
Visitors have been known to pop in to toast marshmallows on the fire; and one local regular brings his own supply of tea bags. Characters reappear each year including ‘the lady with the Morris Minor who parks right across our entrance each year, because she has difficulty manoeuvring, and stops our trade for 45 minutes!’
Troway’s trees take pride of place in the county’s finest hotels such as Hassop Hall and ‘royalty’ are amongst the clientele. Gloria will not divulge names but describes an installation of Christmas trees which is to take four men three days to complete and includes providing a corridor of more than a dozen 20 feet high trees at a ‘stately home’.
‘Our spectrum of customers is vast and I want them all to get the best tree or trees that they can whether they come from a grand house with high ceilings or a modest terrace. People come from the old mining communities because they want the best tree in the road. This has always been the case. I know because I came from one.’
For every 100,000 trees planted some 30,000 will never get to be sold due to damage caused by deer or rabbits and theft. Thieves are a perennial problem and as the season revs up it’s not uncommon for Gloria to be called out to the nursery numerous times a night because one of the many alarms has been activated. (Peeved purchasers also lose out, with about one in 10 bought trees lost from roof racks or stolen, lights and all, from private gardens.)
The Christmas tree growing business takes a big investment in terms of land, time and labour. It takes around 12 to 13 years to grow a tree to six to six and half feet and each tree is planted a metre apart to allow for a healthy and bushy growth. Each tree is also tended throughout its life, with regular shaping and trimming. ‘You have to give a lot out before you can take back,’ said Gloria. ‘I believe in that philosophy so much. Throughout the year we have a team looking after the land and the trees on all three farms.’
The job has unexpected fringe benefits. No one who works at the nurseries among the trees tends to suffer from seasonal colds and flu.
‘They pass comment about it all the time, about how well they feel working among the trees,’ said Gloria.
The entrepreneur and scientist attributes this phenomenon to the natural gums and resins which determine the distinctive fresh smell of pine and fir.
She said: ‘We all ought to have a Christmas tree in our home every day of the year. The trees emanate gums and resins which have a beautiful scent and antibacterial properties which purify the air in winter. I love the smell, the freshness, the frisson and the energy that gives you.
‘It’s no coincidence that the gifts to Jesus from the wise men – frankincense and myrrh – are dried tree saps or resins which have natural powerful antibacterial qualities.’
Businesswoman Gloria who lives at Troway Hall and runs its honey farm and the associated Medibee company, gives out a pot of honey to each child whose parents have come along to buy a tree.
For Gloria considers that their purchase is a direct investment in her bees. The creatures which feed from flowers in the summer months switch their attention to the trees’ resins and gums from the autumn, when flora becomes scarce.
The local bees use the resins to line their hives to make them sterile and these resins infuse into the honey and bestow it with a powerful antibacterial punch, which defines Troway’s famous bio-active antibacterial honey.
In this way, the Christmas tree growing business is intricately linked to Gloria’s business as a beekeeper.
To gain the best from a tree for health and decorative purposes freshness is key. At Troway customers can choose smaller trees grown in pots with their roots intact or freshly cut trees of any given height from three to thirty feet.
These largest are bought to decorate town centres, churches, hotels, and schools. ‘Someone will generally ring the night before and ask can they have a 30 foot tree delivered the next day!’
Each are cut by chainsaw with a nine inch trunk left below the lowest fronds so that they can be comfortably placed in a stand.
Gloria recommends Nordmann trees for their excellent resistance to needle drop and longevity but also praises Spruce as a cheap alternative that is excellent for outdoor use or for placing in a cool area such as a conservatory. These are also good to plant out in the garden after Christmas. Frazer firs, which give off an almost citrus style scent, win out for intensity of aroma.
But Gloria is derisory about supermarket bought cut trees of any persuasion and withering in her criticism of artificial varieties.
She said: ‘I could cry that they cut vast amounts of trees in Denmark and Norway and pack them into huge palettes yet by the time they come here they will be as dry as the Sahara.
‘There is nothing worse than a dried up tree that fills your vacuum cleaner full of dead needles. We bring ours up very fresh: they are cut the day before.’
As real trees are a renewable and recyclable resource they are considered to be eco-friendly in comparison to artificial trees which contain non-biodegradable plastics.
Gloria said: ‘They take 22 million years to degrade and you will feel guilty for evermore when you dispose of it. And it’s just a piece of plastic you need to dust down. Would you really want that?’
At home, with a family of 12 around her, Gloria will celebrate Christmas with no less than four natural trees from her own nursery, including a 20 foot specimen for the gardens, which can be seen by passers-by. A large tree takes pride of place in the Alice Room (the lounge) and two others are situated in window recesses.
‘I love to see them and they are so tinglingly fresh. But we don’t over decorate them. We often just use lights to enhance the natural qualities of the tree,’ says Gloria. ‘We like the beauty of the trees to speak for themselves.’ w
Troway Hall Christmas Tree Nursery, Marsh Lane, near Coal Aston, S21 5RU. Open from mid-November until Christmas Eve. (Prices start from around £10 for small trees. Six-foot to seven-foot trees, average price £40 to £45. Forty-foot trees retail at around £400-£500). Troway trees also sold at Medibee, Bakewell. See also www.christmastreesnextday.co.uk