The Life-Cycle of a Bowood Christmas Tree

Home-grown within the 2000-acre Bowood estate, our trees don’t have to travel far. Every year the Bowood Estate Team hand-pick trees for the local town, Calne, as well as to stand proudly into Bowood House and Bowood Resort. From replanting to recycling them in the hotel’s biomass boiler, Head Forester Alan Day is passionate about sustainability.

From planting to decorating and beyond

‘That’s the one!’ It’s late September and Bowood’s Head Forester Alan Day is sizing up a Norway Spruce. ‘Standing about 30-foot high, there should be a bird’s eye view from its top across to the centre of Calne.’

That’s exactly where this imposing spruce will end up from mid-November when it will be the town’s Christmas tree. Lord and Lady Lansdowne’s annual gift of a Bowood Christmas tree to Calne continues a long-standing tradition. Alan’s choice of tree for 2020 has been growing in its particular spot within the Bowood Estate’s ‘Christmas tree plantation’ – among some 500 of varying sizes and ages – for the past 30 years or so.

Alan admits: ‘As a forester, I prefer planting trees to chopping them down yet when I see the Bowood tree in Calne in all its festive finery and being enjoyed by passers-by I do feel proud of my part in making that happen.’

Similarly, Alan understands the excitement for pupils at Derry Hill Primary School when the gift to them of a Bowood tree is up. ‘We will select a six-footer specially for the school to suit its smaller space inside.’

It’s the size and appearance of a tree that determines its selection for a particular recipient. It will be delivered on the day it is felled to ensure ultimate freshness. Bowood Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort receives six trees – ranging between 10-25 feet in height – during the last week of November, for instance. The two for Bowood House are each approximately 16 feet high to fit the proportions of the Library and the New Hall (leading into the Orangery) and arrive there in mid-December.

Within the plantation there are two species of conifer: the Norway Spruce (quick-growing and reaching great heights with a pointed crown) and the more traditional Nordmann Fir (slower growing and with denser needles that are less likely to shed). The Christmas tree plantation is on a separate part of the Estate to the more ornamental Pinetum (to which Bowood House & Gardens visitors have access) that dates back to the Victorian period.

‘Each winter – around late November/early December – we plant somewhere between 50 to 100 Christmas trees. This far exceeds the 20 or so we fell for Christmas,’ says Alan. ‘The favourite part of my job in forestry is planting. I absolutely love it! It will be just me and an assistant and we begin at first light.

From festive felling to decorating

‘As you can imagine, felling a 30-foot tree has to be carefully undertaken and that is why a good amount of advance planning is required, even if it does just take 10 minutes to bring it down with a chain saw. I will have one assistant helping me for the job and then, using a mechanical lifter, we will load it onto a trailer which delivers it to Calne.

‘As for others who will receive a Bowood Christmas tree – since theirs will be much smaller than Calne’s – I will select each one on the actual day of its delivery.’ These will come down in far less than 10 minutes and with only one person required for the job.’

The two trees for Bowood House are loaded onto a tractor-trailer and taken to the rear of the House where Head Gardener David Glass and three of his team are waiting to carry them through a cobbled courtyard and then into the Orangery.

‘Carrying trees that open up to an eight-foot span at their widest, through four-foot-wide doors, is somewhat nerve-wracking,’ says David, picking up the story. ‘Fortunately, they fold in upon themselves and as they are so fresh don’t shed their needles along the way.  The one bound for the Library heads past some very precious items so the utmost care must be taken. Once they are in the New Hall and the Library they are laid down on the floor for us to put the lights and decorations that Lady Lansdowne has chosen for the top of each tree. Once these are secured, we raise each tree into place and make sure they’re well anchored. We can then breathe a sigh of relief and leave the real artistry to Lady Lansdowne and her group of helpers.’

By this time, the trees for Bowood Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort – a mile away from the House and the Christmas tree plantation – will have been up and decorated for a fortnight or so.  A green-keeper or two will have been deployed to help Alan and another forester set up the trees – the 25-footer outside the golf clubhouse being their biggest challenge, ahead of it being bedecked with masses of strands of fairy lights.

And then it’s January…

Some five weeks on, the decorations are down and it might be thought that the bare trees have served their purpose. Not quite yet, as Alan explains:

‘The trees that have been so central to Christmas celebrations across the Estate are collected and brought down to the forestry yard, known as ‘The Osprey’, where their wood is chipped to then be used in our environmentally-friendly biomass system that generates heating for the hotel. The same happens to the young pines that I mentioned earlier, the ones we remove if they haven’t taken proper hold.’

Training as a forester at Holme Lacey in Herefordshire straight after he left school, Alan went on to work across the rural community before being appointed Head Forester at Bowood in April 2005. Naturally he is passionate about sustainability and protecting the environment. ‘I very much believe if you cut a tree down you must replant. You may well not see them reach full maturity but it is reward in itself to maintain and protect them as they grow.’

In this vein, he observes, ‘We talk about ‘food miles’ and ‘air miles’ but what about ‘tree miles’? It’s with the import and export of timber that tree diseases can spread. Minimising their transportation is crucial on any number of levels and I am very proud that Bowood Christmas trees don’t travel beyond a mile to delight so many during the festive season.’

The full version of this article can be read in the December issue of Wiltshire Life magazine.