Island Life Magazine Ltd December 2008/January 2009 - Page 81

GARDENING one of a selection of living trees which, Ursula says, are ideal as a smaller, second tree in the conservatory or dining room. “After Christmas, take it outside to let acclimatise, then you can plant it and it will be a living tree.” But how many of us can remember opting for a little potted tree and seeing it wither when planted out? Ursula discloses one of the uglier tricks of the trade: “People wanted a tree with roots, so sellers used to dig a tree up, and put it in a pot. All the little fine roots for taking up water have gone, it’s squashed in a pot – it’s hardly a living tree.” Ursula is a member of the British Christmas Tree Association, which frowns on such practices. Conversely the association is reacting to the demand for larger pot-grown trees, so Thompson’s will pot theirs on for next year’s customers – both on the Island and the mainland, where it has four branches in addition to its Island outlet. Indeed, the sheer scale of the operation seems remarkable when you consider it is still a family firm operating from Mrs Thompson’s house. All the Christmas trees are grown on the Island and “exported” across the Solent. They were enabled to do this when they bought Shide Trees, which was an established farm ready for cropping, so there is time for trees to grow to the required eight years The Island's new funky radio station life at their newer farm at Knighton. Christmas tree production has proved to be wonderful for the company. “It means we have an income at Christmas time, which is a fallow time for garden sales,” says Ursula. “We cut them fresh, so we can have a really good quality tree. And it means that we don’t have to lay off the trained staff during winter.” The staff are never idle. The women make beautiful wreaths from real living Noble Fir and Nordman Fir, and the men help with cutting trees, getting them sent to the mainland, and running Shide Trees. By the time all that happens it’s time to start nursery production again for the spring. Ursula is proud that the overseer of all the nurseries, Peter Alexander, has been with them since he was 16, and was nurtured by Mr Thompson himself who built up those nurseries from scratch. Tragically, David Thompson died suddenly earlier this year, but the attention he gave to training his staff, and the way in which he shared his knowledge, means he has left a thriving asset for his staff, and for the Island. “He was an amazing grower,” says Ursula, quietly. Thompson’s Plant and Garden Centre, Watery Lane, Newchurch. Tel 865292 81