Husband & wife team, Stuart and Jennie Kirkup, who have been running Dartmoor Christmas Trees since 2002, were selected as standout winners in the categories of Champion Christmas Tree and Champion Wreath, in the British Christmas Tree Growers’ Association’s annual contest last week. The competition saw growers travel from the farthest corners of the UK to Poundffald Farm in West Glamorgan, where they pitched their spruces and firs against those of their peers. In an unprecedented sweep of the results, Stuart and Jennie, who have four children, claimed the top prize for Champion Tree, Champion Tree Runner Up, Best Fir ‘Other’, Best Norway Spruce, Best Decorated Wreath, Best Natural Wreath, and Champion Festive Wreath. The result means the couple will be responsible for supplying Number 10 Downing Street with TWO Christmas trees this year, and the wreath for the famous front door. Stuart, who qualified in civil engineering before falling in love with the world of Christmas tree farming, said: “I just can’t believe it. For my wife or I to have come away with one prize between us would have been great, but for Jennie to win all three awards for her wreaths and for me to get so many for the trees – it’s just incredible, and not what I expected at all. “Throughout the year I looked at the Spruce in the field in particular, and thought maybe that could be in with a chance for the annual BCTGA competition, but I never dared actually believe one of my industry acclaimed Fraser Fir might win the Champion spot. I’m delighted.” Stuart’s trip to the Prime Minister’s residence will be particularly special this year, given that he previously had an opportunity to attend as a runner-up, but sadly lost his father just days before the event, and was forced to pull out of the occasion. “That was five years ago now,” he said. “I never thought I would get a chance to be back again – but as a winner. “I’m sure Dad will be looking down on me on the day and smiling.” Stuart and Jennie employ around 25 staff at the peak of the festive season on their 35 acre farm. They admit it can be hard work, but insist it is a labour of love, and a joy shared by the many loyal workers who come back year after year. “There are certainly some tough times in Christmas tree growing, because for 10 months of the year you’re not seeing anything for the efforts you’re putting in,” Stuart said. “But at the same time, it’s something I absolutely love doing and the sense of reward in the busier times is terrific.“That’s why we have so many staff coming back year after year to help us at the peak season both on our farm and at our main retail outlet – Haldon Christmas Tree Centre within Haldon Forest Park. They love being involved with the trees. We have many professionals with office jobs. They can’t wait to get back in the field at Christmas time and help us.” The British Christmas Tree Growers Association contest is now in its 18th year. Each farmer, who will have spent around 10 years nurturing the tree to full ‘competition’ height, is able to enter categories including Best Nordman, Best Other Fir, Best Pine, Best Norway Spruce, Best Other Spruce, Best Container Grown, and Best Festive Wreath. Finalists were permitted to submit only one tree into each category, and trees entered must be commercially cultivated and be 1.8 metres ( +/- 400mms) high from base to tip. Each is judged for foliage, colour, shape and marketability. Harry Brightwell, secretary of the British Christmas Tree Growers’ Association, said: “Huge congratulations go to Stuart and Jennie. We’ve never seen a couple walk away with seven prizes in one go like that before, but they thoroughly deserved their awards. “Yet again, all the entries were of a high standard. Every one of our members puts a great deal of commitment into a year-round process of farming Christmas trees, so this event is a valuable opportunity for us to applaud their efforts. “Our message this year to all festive lovers is to make choosing a tree a special event for the household – and to ‘Buy Real, Buy British’.”
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