Katrine Anker-Nilssen chats to Howard Cook at Overdale Farm in Kloof, where Christmas trees have been growing happily for almost 70 years
Howard’s grandparents moved to Overdale in 1922. Originally it was a rural working farm with cattle, but they soon downscaled to focus on horticultural activities and started growing trees in the late 1940s/early 1950s. The first Christmas trees grown were Norfolk pine, but being brittle and slow-growing, Howard’s grandfather saw better potential in Japanese cedar. This type is still grown today by Howard, who took over the running of the 20-hectare farm nearly 40 years ago.
“Initially it was a very small-scale business, we were growing and selling tall trees for hotels, churches, halls and functions,” explains Howard. But the business slowly grew and soon Overdale was supplying charities like Round Table and Rotary on a wholesale basis. “We then expanded more towards retail, and that’s when we started welcoming customers to the farm so they could choose their own tree.”
“We are the fourth generation making family memories at Overdale. Family is so important, and I feel that a Christmas tree facilitates in making good memories every year,” says Howard, who has three children with his wife Trish. “Helen is 24, Arthur is 21 and Gordon is 19. They all come home for Christmas to help out, it is an annual family tradition – one they wouldn’t miss for the world.
“I enjoy seeing things grown, knowing that what’s being produced is sustainable. I also love seeing the joy on people’s faces, from toddlers to grandparents, at Christmas time when they come to choose their tree,” smiles Howard.
The family business has six permanent staff members, and employs another four casuals in December, because tree growing is a continuous job that lasts throughout the year.
“In January and February we make new rooted cuttings which grow in nursery beds with overhead irrigation, and in March and April we mulch stumps and trees back into the ground. In July and August land is prepared, and in September and October we plant out the cuttings,” explains Howard.
Overdale sells a few thousand trees a year. “It takes four years to reach a good size – from rooting the cuttings to having a 3m tall tree. However we sell Christmas trees in six sizes, ranging from 1,2m to 3m,” says Howard, adding that the farm opens for sale generally on the last Friday of November or at the very beginning of December, and today deliver trees all over Durban – from Toti to Ballito – and as far as Johannesburg.
Howard also has a passion for indigenous trees. “If you want to plant your own indigenous growing, living Christmas tree in your garden, I would recommend the Henkel’s yellowwood because it develops a fairly conical shape,” he says.
9 Shinglewood Road, Kloof
November 30 – December 23, please respect opening hours: 8am-5pm
031 767 2019
CARING FOR YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE
- Stand your tree in a container or a bucket.
- Support your tree with bricks or place in a concrete stand to keep it straight.
- Fill the container with water and top up regularly.
- A sterilising fluid, such as Milton or Jik, can be added to the water.
- Damp soil is not advisable.
- Don’t transport your tree on the roof of your car or on the back of an open bakkie.
- Don’t stand your tree outdoors in the sun or close to air-conditioning ducts.
- If you look after your tree properly and treat it like a cut plant, it should last three weeks.