The artistry of creating the perfect Christmas tree at Notchview


WINDSOR — John Dziegiel is a Christmas tree artist.

With a long, very sharp shearing knife in hand, the maintenance technician at Notchview Reservation carefully prunes the branches of a fraser fir, destined to stand tall, brilliantly decorated, in a Berkshire home this holiday season.

"I shape them to get that triangular shape. We start to do this after Labor Day to allow the branches to harden," he said

"It really takes a touch, there is an art to it," added Tom Por, Berkshire general manager for The Trustees of the Reservations.

Trustees' property Notchview is best known for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and bird watching. Yet, on Dec. 9, from 9 a.m to 3 p.m., the reservations staff will cut about three dozen fraser and balsam firs, selling the 5- to 7-foot evergreens at reasonable prices to Trustees members ($20) and the general public ($25). Proceeds from the sale are re-invested in maintaining Notchview.

The annual one-day sale dates back to the mid-1980s, keeping with Trustees' mission of preservation and use of its 25,000 acres across Massachusetts, according to Notchview stewardship manager, Jim Caffrey.

"These trees are an agricultural crop. Each year we buy seedlings that are two to three years old and we let them mature to about seven to 10 years before we sell them," Caffrey said. "Any given year,we have 30 to 40 trees ready to cut and if we sell them all, great."

Notchview's modest Christmas tree farm is located on 4 to 5 acres near the Hume Brook Trail, on the south side of Route 9, across from the main reservation. Each year, Notchview buys about 50 seedlings from various nurseries in the Northeast and plants by early May. The Trustees purchase primarily fraser and balsam fir seedlings as they grow best in the area's heavy clay soil, according to the staff.

After 18 years of shearing and cultivating the evergreens, Dziegiel recommends waking up Christmas morning to a sparkling fraser fir.

"[Frasers] have thicker branches and can hold ornaments better. They also hold their needles better than most," he said. "Balsam fir may smell better, but fraser is easier to shape."

Dziegiel noted the trees are allowed to grow 4 feet tall, before they are sheared and shaped.

As the evergreens mature, they also act as a haven for Notchview's fine, feathered friends.

"The trees provide some wildlife for the summer, field sparrows for example. Sometimes we find an empty nest in a tree," Caffrey said.

Given the available acreage and below market-rate prices, Notchview could easily grow and sell more fraser and balsam firs for the holidays, but small is best.

"We're not looking to make Notchview a Christmas tree plantation," Por said.

Reach Dick Lindsay at and 413-496-6233


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