Sunday, November 27, 2011

Find Your Christmas Tree at Buttonwood Farm

Buttonwood Farm is the best cut your own Christmas tree farm in Northern Virginia.

It seems like only yesterday we were carving jack-o-lanterns and doling out cavities to costumed children, but twinkling lights and glittering snowflake ornaments have replaced glowing skulls and illuminated ghosts. With the Thanksgiving leftovers eaten or shared with the birds and squirrels, my family has moved onto Christmas preparations. Today we retired the Indian corn, twisted gourds, and other fall decor, and erected a six-foot Norway spruce in our living room.

Yes, a spruce - not our normal choice of a
Scotch pine. Unfortunately, our preferred Christmas tree farm is being swallowed up by urban sprawl, so we headed a few miles further west to find a truly rural experience. A quick search on a local pick your own Christmas tree Web site revealed numerous alternatives for us in Northern Virginia. While my wife was drawn to the impressive environmental record of Buttonwood Farm, I was more enticed by the expansive view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Christmas tree field. Also, Buttonwood's location just north and west of Middleburg is easily reached from the D.C. suburbs along Route 50, which is good for families like mine with young children in tow.

Shortly after escaping the frustrating blockade of traffic lights in eastern Loudoun County, Route 50 becomes a two-lane highway. It can be very busy at times, but we were fortunate to ride the rolling hills soaked in Civil War history west without being rushed.

Unlike many of the agri-entertainment farms in Northern Virginia, Buttonwood Farm is unassuming and quaint. If you're looking for a holiday carnival atmosphere, keep looking because you won't find it at Buttonwood. Instead of bearded teenagers in orange parking vests, we were greeted by four curious dogs. Blocking the lane were two old Labs, a pregnant hound, and an exuberant Setter-mix puppy. I
brought the man-van to a complete stop to allow the fearless foursome time to investigate the noisy intrusion to their peaceful home on the hill.

Since our arrival coincided with the farm's opening, we were the only family there. The farm's owners, Tad and Cathy Zimmerman, waved warmly as I parked the man-van near their wooded shelter. The pack of friendly dogs jumped and licked at my boys as we crossed the lane. Having dragged Christmas trees across vast muddy parking lots in the past, I appreciated the opportunity to park close.

A chimney pumped out puffs of sweet white smoke from a wood stove made from an old black barrel. Atop the barrel was a bubbling pot of freshly mulled apple cider. Two picnic tables were draped with traditional white and red checked tablecloths. Cathy told us th
e Norway spruces were ready to harvest, so I grabbed a measuring pole and a super sharp bow saw, and my family made its way to the stand of conifers across the field.

A half-dozen vultures soared above our heads as we and the dogs tramped across the field with the rising Blue Ridge looming in the distance. Cathy had told me that they were able to stop a neighbor from allowing a developer to build over 125 houses on the hill across the valley. Instead, the property was placed in an easement and only one log cabin was built. She bragged
that there was only one paved road between her farm and the mountain, which impressed me.

Unlike our past experiences searching for Christmas trees, we really only had one species from which to choose, but the trees were all healthy and beautiful. After a short survey, the boys quickly settled on one for me to cut down. Due to the unseasonably warm high-60s temps, I didn't bother dragging a blanket out to kneel upon. I accepted the wet knees, lifted some branches, and brought the spruce down in a few minutes. Buttonwood's sharp saw blade made quick work of the often stubborn trunk.

The distance to the shelter and processing area was short. My boys were eating chocolate bells, gingersnap cookies, and candy canes by the stove before Tad had even shaken our tree. Once the excess needles and grass had been vibrated away, he clamped the trunk and the engine pulled our tree through the baler. I placed the tree against the fence and joined my family for snacks, cider, and a heart-warming conversation with Cathy.

Our visit felt more like spending time with family than a commercial venture to buy a tree. It was refreshing.
Sensing my boys were growing restless with my deliberate knot tying as I carefully tied the tree to roof of the van, Tad informed me their pond was stocked with bass, channel catfish, bluegill, and large Koi. Unfortunately, it was lunchtime and we had to go. But I would have loved to spend a few more hours lounging on the farm with the Zimmerman's and their dogs.

If you live in Northern Virginia and you want to cut your own Christmas tree in a rural, family-friendly setting, Buttonwood Farm is an excellent choice. Not to mention the fantastic lunch awaiting you afterward in Middleburg at
Fox's Den Tavern.

Buttonwood Farm is open weekends 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. between Thanksgiving and Christmas and weekdays by appointment.