Christmas tree farmer continues with tradition
Originally published November 29, 2009
By Adam Behsudi
NEW! Click photo to view additional photos
Photo by Graham Cullen
Family and friends of Jim Lucey, shown here around a giant Christmas wreath and stone tree, have come to the Clemsonville Christmas Tree Farm to harvest a tree for 33 years. This year, some traveled from as far away as Atlanta and Boston.
UNION BRIDGE -- Enter Michael Ryan's barn and you'll see Santa asleep in the corner, a chimney St. Nick used to come down before he fell into a snooze and a record of what had been the world's largest wreath.
What you won't find is a shred of bah humbug to ruin the quintessential Christmas mood of Ryan's tree farm on Clemsonville Road.
On Saturday, Ryan with the help of his sons and grandchildren handed out saws for Christmas tree-hunting families. They also hosted their largest group of visitors each season.
Ryan said the tree business is competitive these days -- a contrast to the boom times of the past.
"People would line up on the roads to get in a tree farm in the '70s and early '80s," he said.
Ryan said more people are choosing natural trees. He got steady business Saturday and a visit from one of his most loyal customers.
Gaithersburg resident Jim Lucey brought his usual group of more than 35 people -- a tradition that's been ongoing for about 30 years.
"The prices are pretty good," he said. "You can't beat $20 for a tree."
Lucey found out about Ryan's tree farm from a flier he picked up at a grocery store 33 years ago, and he's been coming ever since.
"We make it a big yearly event," he said.
Ryan bought the 230-acre farm in 1965 and has been selling trees since 1967. He lives in the late 1700s house built by the original landowner, John Clemson.
No longer the Guinness record holder for the world's largest wreath, Ryan said the category now allows floral arrangements. He said the reclassification knocked his 116-foot-diameter wreath of evergreen boughs out of the running in the late 1980s.
He does claim to have the largest real Christmas wreath with a limestone tree as its centerpiece.
"You can see how no one can reproduce that," he said.
Frederick News Post Article
Clemsonville Christmas Tree Farm is open every day beginning Friday, November 29, 2019 through Christmas Eve from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm.
Long holiday season still attracts early Christmas tree shoppers
Nov 26, 2017
Mike Ryan and his son, Michael Ryan Jr., stand in front of the Christmas tree Michael selected for his home.
The holiday season can’t get any longer with a whopping 31 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.
The longer than usual wait between turkey and presents, however, didn’t keep families from loading into their cars and heading out to Frederick County’s Christmas tree farms on Sunday.
Claudia Reyes had visited Clemsonville Christmas Tree Farm near Union Bridge since 1995 with her parents and sisters. On Sunday, her four children clutched snow globes and watched Santa Claus snoring in his bed inside the farm’s barn after successfully finding another tree.
“It’s been a family tradition,” Reyes said.
Tradition is at the heart of the business for Mike Ryan, 84, who purchased the farm in 1965 and started selling Christmas trees in 1974. He keeps his prices low at $20 for any size tree and offers hand saws, twine, cookies and punch to get get people in the holiday spirit.
“When people come to the farm, they have great expectations,” Ryan said. “It’s a very happy day for most of them.”
Almost as soon as the Reyes family sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, the kids started to ask their grandfather, Gary Chance, when they were going to get a tree, Reyes said. Chance met Ryan 25 years ago while he was posting advertisements for the Christmas tree farm, and ever since the family has driven out to Union Bridge to find a tree.
Even if the family finds a good tree within five minutes of arriving, they still like to drive up and down the hills looking at the acres of trees, Chance said.
“The price is good, but it’s also a family thing,” he said.
From the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, Ryan sells Christmas trees from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The weekends are the busiest, but a few people will come out during the week to scope out a tree as well, he said.
Next weekend, he expected the cut-your-own Christmas tree business to pick-up as the holiday inched a little closer.
Ryan recommended that early season customers consider purchasing a long needle pine tree — such as a white pine that has 4-inch needles — instead of one of the more popular short needle varieties, because the long needles are more likely to stay on the branches through the long holiday.
Some customers were skeptical that the branches would support heavier ornaments, but Ryan assured them that the trees had been trimmed to improve branch strength.
Ryan’s son, Michael Jr., was at the farm on Sunday helping his father greet customers, hand out saws and tie trees to the roofs of cars. He is a practicing lawyer, but grew up on the farm and selling Christmas trees.
Each day he is at the farm, he hears of at least two or three families that have been picking out their Christmas tree at Clemsonville for 30 years, though there are plenty of first-time families as well, he said.
Julie Ankers, her husband and three children loaded into their car and drove from Virginia to Union Bridge to find their first live Christmas tree on Sunday.
“This is our first year as a family having a real tree,” Ankers said.
An artificial tree has been the center of the family’s holiday for multiple years, because it is quick and easy to set up in one night. Having never experienced a live tree, the kids had never asked for one, she said. But, now that the kids are older, she wanted to share the experience of finding a tree with them.
“This changes it from a few hours to an all-day adventure,” Ankers said.
Her eldest, Sabrina, 11, was excited to get the tree home and start hanging up ornaments — particularly her favorite one of a bear wearing a pink hat and vest. Her sister Samantha, 9, was also excited to put the angle on top of the tree.
“I like that the artificial tree has no falling pine [needles] on the floor, but the nature one has that nice pine smell,” Samantha said.
The artificial Christmas tree market has continued to cut into the number of trees the farm sells each year, Ryan said. During its peak years in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Clemsonville could have a half mile line of cars waiting to get into its parking lot to buy a tree after church, he said.
“Life changes and you have to use creativity, and agri-entertainment, and help the customer have a great time in the country,” Ryan said.
Follow Samantha Hogan on Twitter: @SAHogan.