Kelty Caston has been selling Christmas trees locally for 18 years. He now has 10 sites, including his first, in Richmond, and Putney
‘People only think about Christmas trees during the season – but it’s a year round job. Early in the year I need to sort out landowner permissions for the sites, and health and safety issues. In August and September I start visiting the sellers in Scotland and Hampshire and further afield in Denmark, Belgium and Ireland.
‘I look at the whole field – the health, density and shape of the trees. A tree spends two years in a nursery and then seven years in the field before it is ready to cut – and then it takes about a week to get to the sites. I always buy the premium grade and negotiate a price, which can change from year to year. I buy around 20,000 trees and as it’s a low margin business I don’t want to be left with more than 500 on Christmas Eve.
‘The first year I barely broke even as I spent a lot of money before I’d even sold my first tree. I rented a portacabin and slept there each night to keep an eye on the stock – it was so cold I never slept a wink!
‘In the Christmas season I’m at the Richmond site by 7am – I now rent a flat locally for two months rather than sleep onsite – and the gates open at eight. The day is constantly busy with new trees coming in by lorry. They are large and each one has to be taken off individually to keep it in the best condition.
‘I now run 10 sites across London and sell online, too, so there are always things to deal with throughout the day – lights not working or staff issues, for instance – and deciding which trees are needed where. It’s a short trading period and weekends are particularly busy, so we have to be well prepared.
‘As part of what I do, I support the charity Tree Aid, and for every tree that is bought from me, one is planted in Africa. Last year I donated £25,000 and that goes to help educate the locals in the understanding the importance of trees.
‘We close at 8pm, which is when I’ll go back to the flat and facetime with my son before he goes to bed. My wife, Jo, sometimes comes and visits from our house in Oxford. Then it’s time to eat and sleep.
‘We used to close at midnight on Christmas Eve, but now it’s 5pm so we can all get home to our families. And I’ll be back after Boxing Day to start dismantling the sites.
‘I love to decorate our tree but don’t often do it because I’m away, but I do tend to move things round when no-one’s looking!’
You can find The Christmas Forest at Pools on the Park, Old Deer Park (off the A316), Richmond TW9 2SF. www.christmasforest.co.uk