A tale of Christmas trees
While children have already sent their letter to Santa Claus, a meeting with a producer of Nordmann Christmas trees, the "star"of balsam fir, takes place.
"Oh!"If I were as large as others, sighed the little Christmas tree, I could spread widely my green foliage and my summit, to contemplate the vast world. Birds would build their nests in my branches and, when there is wind, I could gracefully sway just like those who surround me". If the Danish writer H.C. Andersen had already, in his time dedicated a tale to the famous "Grantræet"(Fir tree), its original name, its is because the fir tree - but also the spirit of Christmas - already had a special place in the hearts of the Danes.
We are in Stenlille, the beautiful heart of the island of Seeland, 80 kilometers west of Copenhagen. Under a thin sheet of mist, the silhouettes of the coveted Nordmann fir are discretely revealed. Susanne Kjærgaard (Sneholt-Nilsen Company, official FELCO importer for Denmark) and myself are expected at Jens Erik Bjoern and Hanne Bjoern, at a honey-colored property with spicy sap scents. Jens makes an entrance worthy of the characters taken from the tales of Hans Christian Andersen. He suddenly appears behind us and immediately disappears in his 4 x 4 before leading us towards the forest. Despite his 68 years, his gray beard and glasses, the man moves confidently and has an expert eye.
Jens is one of Denmark’s oldest producers. And this is putting it mildly in the fir business, as everyone knows. "I started working in the 1970s. I was around during the time where you still purchased conifer cones in Moscow. It was before the fall of the Berlin wall", he recalls.
Denmark: leading exporter of Christmas trees.
It is said that it was a Finn, Alexander von Nordmann, in the 19th century who discovered the Nordmann fir. The biologist who was returning from an expedition to Georgia had brought back seeds in his luggage into Europe and thus bequeathed his name to the now famous Christmas tree.
But it is ultimately a small Scandinavian Kingdom who is master in the art of growing this new species, valued for its form and the qualities of its needles. With just 5.6 million inhabitants, Denmark is worldwide leading Christmas tree exporter with more than 9.5 million trees exported each year and a total annual production of 11 million trees. The country has more than 2500 professional producers. Impressive figures which testify ancestral know-how.
"Even though I am close to the source, I often need two attempts to get my hands on a beautiful Christmas tree before they are all sold", says Hanne, Jens’s wife. Denmark’s climate includes all the ideal conditions for the production of this species: no or limited frost in winter and quality soil. The ability of farmers and the sharing of knowledge oversee everything else.
The tastes and colors
With these 65 hectares, Jens supplies his customers in Germany, France, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, Iceland, the United Kingdom and Poland. And each country or each region has its specificities and therefore its preferences, which includes the criteria governing the beauty of a fir tree. Their most important customers are their neighbors to the South. "The Germans have big houses, they want large, bulky Christmas trees", explains Jens. "They are also the largest producers, but their firs are mainly intended for their own market. The French love the smaller trees, but love them more bushy while the Norwegians prefer thin and slender fir trees",adds Jens.
Knee-high in slush, three people are needed to take care of the few hectares of precious trees. Drizzle injects special atmosphere to the location and its seasonal workers. Squatting on the ground, they cut the branches to clear the feet of the fir trees, using their FELCO. His forty years in the trade make Jens a master in the art. He knows that to make a beautiful tree, "good tools are needed". Additionally, the best seeds give the best fir trees and to ensure this, they must come from the Caucasus region. But the secret lies primarily with the patience and talent of the producer. "There is no substitute for practice and experience", said Jens.
For Jens Erik Bjoern, the high season starts at the beginning of the month of November and only ends on December 24. Indeed, it is possible to see whole aisles of Nordmann firs labeled by size and by client. And these garlands of colorful labels give the area a celebratory feel ahead of time. Although officially a pensioner, Jens agrees to pose proudly beside his most beautiful tree. "I’m not ready to stop", he says with a smile.