Inside a garden of winter delights, Keith Garlock chaperones tree-hunters through a sea of lustrous, glossy green needles. Once the family chops down their chosen evergreen, Garlock shakes it off, wraps it up and lugs the 10-footer to their car.
When he's not helping clientele find the perfect centerpiece for their Christmas décor or mulling over the finer points of Nobles and Nordmans, Garlock dreams up new ways to involve the community and provide an authentic experience for the whole family at his Christmas tree farm.
"Our farm is built around people wanting to make an experience," Garlock says. "It's more than just buying a Christmas tree - it's about the holiday spirit."
And Garlock is not alone in his sentiments. Since Thanksgiving Day, more than a dozen Christmas tree farms and charity-based tree lots throughout Sonoma County have opened their doors, welcoming hundreds of visitors and locals to their festal woods each weekend.
"Some people have a certain smell that they associate with Christmas," Garlock says, "and each tree has its own scent, and grows in a different style."
This year The Garlock Tree Farm is showcasing a variety of firs, pines and spruces, each with their own signature Christmas qualities.
While more than 80 percent of the farm's 10 acres is Douglas firs, those looking for something a little different can sniff out the pungent fragrances of Scotch Pines and White Spruces hidden among the 20,000 choose-and-cut trees growing on the property.
Outside its main attraction, the farm offers free horse-drawn carriage rides and tractor-drawn hay rides around the premise, a cozy picnic area among the pines, pony rides and a candy castle bounce house for the kids and regular visits from Santa Claus.
Apart from its outdoor amusements, the farm also boasts a gift shop with ornaments, wreaths and a wide variety of treats including apple fritters, spiced apple cider, hot chocolate and complimentary coffee and candy canes. Located at 2275 Bloomfield Road in Sebastopol, the farm is open to the public from noon to 5 p.m. on Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, through Dec. 18.
Just down the road, one of Sonoma County's oldest Christmas tree farms caters to families and friends seeking a more downhome and rustic approach to the tree-cutting tradition.
"I think the one thing that separates us from the other farms is if you come out here and buy your tree that's about all you're going to pay for," says Adam Parks, owner of Victorian Christmas Tree Ranch in Sebastopol. "We do sell ornaments and wreaths, but we don't charge for bailing or to shake your tree, we don't charge to tie it on your car, or for the cider and pumpkin bread."
Parks is the third generation to run the 2 and 1/2 acres his grandfather originally purchased in 1972. Each year he plants between 500 and 1,000 1 and 1/2 foot seedlings, which take about six to eight years to mature. His current batch of evergreens ready to choose-and-cut from totals around 250. Along with his homegrown varieties, Parks ships in another 1,200 Noble firs and Silvertips from Oregon, one of the largest Christmas tree growing regions in the world.
Each year, Victorian takes part in the giving spirit through their pre-sale program for non-profits. So far they've donated about 100 trees to various local schools and churches. The farm is also one of 40 Christmas tree nurseries in the nation to contribute to Trees for Troops, an organization that provides Christmas trees for U.S. soldiers on foreign soil unable to be with their family during the holidays. To learn more, or to sponsor a soldier's tree for $25, contact Parks at 332-4605 or email@example.com.
Besides the tree farm, Parks also runs Victorian Farmstead Meat Company, a local retail meat shop, which offers pasture-raised beef, lamb, pork, chicken and sausage, all available at the ranch.
"Everything on the farm is kind of a T.L.C. operation," Parks says. "It's all hand done and old school in the way my grandfather taught us."
Year round, laying hens work in amongst the rows of trees, fertilizing the ground and mowing down the weeds. Every summer an old friend of the Parks sheers and prunes the Christmas trees with a machete.
Parks encourages those who just came out for a tree to tour the ranch's pastures, see how they raise their meat and egg birds and visit with the farm animals. Currently the farm is home to a Herbert calf, a few miniature horses, a baby lamb, piglets, turkeys and a variety of chickens. The farm also includes a haystack for kids to play in, and a picnic area to enjoy a scenic lunch. Located at 1220 Gravenstein Hwy. N. in Sebastopol, Victorian runs from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday (excluding Tuesdays), and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, until Jan. 6, 2012.
Other tree farms in the area:
Frosty Mountain Tree Farm
3600 Mariola Rd., Sebastopol, 829-2351.
Open through Dec. 24.
Weekdays noon to 5 p.m.
Weekends 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
3500 Mariola Rd., Sebastopol, 829-1569.
Weekdays 11a.m. to 6 p.m.
Weekends 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Grandma Buddy’s Christmas Trees
8575 Graton Rd., Sebastopol, 823-4547.
Open through Dec. 24.
Daily 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
3447 Celesta Ct., Sebastopol, 829-9352.
Open through Dec. 18.
Friday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
840 Ferguson Rd., Sebastopol, 823-6973.
Seven days a week 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
11389 Barnett Valley Rd., Sebastopol, 823-6635.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to dusk.
2870 Canfield Road, Sebastopol, 823-4817.
Open through Christmas Eve.
Weekends only 9 a.m. to dusk.