Hillsborough resident carries on his grandfather’s family business

Dec. 02, 2013 @ 08:28 AM

From when he was big enough to carry a Christmas tree, Jeff Denson was helping his grandfather run their cut-your-own tree and wreath business.

And although his grandfather died last year at the age of 89, Denson is still helping. He bought the farm on St. Mary’s Road and is now running Smith’s Christmas Tree Farm & Wreaths with his family.

“I’ve always been close to my grandfather – he was kind of like a dad,” Denson said. “I grew up next door. I was always up here.”

Denson’s grandfather bought the property on St. Mary’s Road after serving as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He originally had a farm with chickens, cows and sheep, and also owned a dry cleaning business. When he retired from farming, he started growing Christmas trees.

“He loved family, and was always growing things, and had a huge garden,” Denson said of his grandfather, Clarence Dupree Smith. “If he figured he could make a dollar farming, that’s how he wanted to live.”

Denson said his grandfather tried to grow Fraser firs on their farm, but those never flourished. He was able to grow white pines and cedars in a moon-shape behind the house, he said, and also supplemented those with Frasier furs bought from the mountains. Denson’s grandfather’s brother owned a Christmas tree farm in the mountains.

“He loved the Christmas trees,” Denson said of his grandfather.

Denson said his mother lived next door on part of what was originally the 48-acre property that his grandfather bought. He would help to cut the trees down and carry them. His grandfather would put them in a Christmas tree shaker to remove the dead needles.

“My grandfather would say, ‘this is the home of the dancing Christmas tree,’ ” Denson said.

His grandfather stopped planting more trees when he was 87 years old, although Denson said he trimmed them even when he was in a wheelchair. Now he said they have to play catch-up in planting trees, and are still buying Frasier furs from the mountains to supplement their store as well.

They will plant more trees in February, trim them twice a year, and will fertilize the soil.

“It takes a long time to get a 6-foot tree,” he said.

Denson said he didn’t know he would be able to buy the farm. Their family was planning to sell it to allow for residential redevelopment, but he said that wasn’t an option.

He asked his family if he could buy it at the appraised value. The family moved into what was his grandfather’s house, and how he’s running the tree business in addition to working as a farrier, which is the craft of placing shoes on horses’ hooves.

Denson said that on their tree farm, his daughter Catlin, 16, helps collect money and track how many wreaths are sold, and his daughter Kyndall, 14, sells wreaths. Dawn said her two youngest daughters Lylah, 5, and Alayna, 2, are in charge of making sure that children who visit the farm are having a good time.

Denson said they also ran the Christmas tree farm last year. It was a good year, he said. He attributes the good business to sales to residents of a development that’s located across the street, as well as to his grandfather.

“He’s an angel looking over us,” Denson said.