Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Oh, Christmas Tree, how lovely are your branches: Tree-Trimming Tips from The Rocks Estate

The Glessner House (Chicago) tree, from The Rocks.
Since the first Christmas trees were decorated in 16th-Centrury northern Europe with fruits, candles and paper flowers, people have been coming up with new and creative ideas for trimming the tree. There are formal Christmas trees of delicate silver and gold ornaments, bright trees bursting with colorful baubles, and homey trees trimmed with homemade decorations and treasured family ornaments.

The most important part of decorating a Christmas tree is letting your own personality and holiday traditions shine through. In a tree-trimming rut? Well, here are some ideas from The Rocks Estate to spice things up a bit:

* String a wide ribbon with festive colors through your tree’s branches as a garland.

* If you normally use small, white tree lights, switch things up with colored bulbs. Christmas lights are even available in efficient LED varieties now, so check out your options and see what you like.

Family tree in Franconia, NH
* Pick a theme that suits your family’s style or that is reminiscent of the year just past. Love the beach? Trim your tree with shells and seashore colors. Excited for winter? Make paper snowflakes to adorn the tree. Nature lover? Figurines of birds and other animals make great tree decorations!

* Get creative and craft some new ornaments. Tissue paper flowers held by pipe cleaners are easy to make and add a pop of color to the tree.

* Bring a bit of nature inside by hanging pinecones or dried flowers on your tree.

* Spice it up with sticks of cinnamon wrapped with ribbon. Or hang candy canes from the boughs.

Of course, if you’re a traditionalist, you may cherish pulling out those old ornaments collected over a lifetime each holiday season. Some families purchase a new ornament each year to add to the collection.

If you’re looking for inspiration, or would like a special ornament to add to your tree trimming repertoire, be sure to stop by the Rocks Marketplace and our Farm Store when you visit The Rocks this season. Our shops are brimming with ornaments and other fantastic holiday decorations – plus plenty of good holiday cheer!

Happy holidays… we hope to see you soon at The Rocks!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Horse-drawn wagon rides at The Rocks: A conversation with guide Nancy Czarny

One of the most-loved Christmastime activities at The Rocks Estate is the horse-drawn wagon rides through the farm. Teams of huge draft horses pull the wagons, visitors nestle under warm blankets, and a Rocks guide shares stories about the Estate's history, the Forest Society’s mission, and the work that goes into growing those neat rows of perfect Christmas trees.

Nancy Czarny has been volunteering as a Rocks guide for 19 years. Here’s her take on what makes The Rocks a magical place, and why she keeps coming back year after year…

How did you get started volunteering at The Rocks?
I had moved up from Connecticut and was looking for an outreach program of some sort. I saw an ad in the paper looking for people who wanted to go through volunteer training. I signed up, and it was great. I met a lot of new people. And working at The Rocks, with its conservation mission and education work, was a cause that I could really put my heart behind.

Nancy leads a tour with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen aboard.
Have you always been a wagon guide, or have you done other volunteer work, too?
When I started, we were doing lots of educational programs about Christmas trees with the local school kids, and I was involved in that. The children were so responsive, and I just loved the programs we were teaching. I’ve also done the educational piece of the Maple Experience program we do in the spring.

But my favorite thing to do at The Rocks is to be on the wagons during the holiday season. At first, I was a little shy about doing the tours, but once I got started, it was just really fun.

Do you have a script to follow, or does each guide have his or her own routine?
I think we all go off on our own little tangents. I have my own routine I’ve developed over the years.

I have people who have been on my wagon every Christmas season for years and years. So sometimes I ask them questions to see if they can remember the spiel. Or I ask if they’d rather sing Christmas carols, since they’ve heard it all before. But they always want to hear the wagon dialogue again.

One of the things I tell people, beyond the history of the Estate and how Christmas trees are grown, is how The Rocks ships mail order Christmas trees. Each tree is shipped in a seemingly ordinary cardboard box, but it’s lined to keep the tree fresh, and then you open the box and – spring! – there’s your Christmas tree. I send my sister in Florida a Rocks tree each year, and it’s like a little bit of Christmas magic.

What is the question you get asked most often by wagon riders?
Mostly, it’s the children who want to ask the teamsters questions about the horses. The teamsters are fabulous, and the horses are amazing!

Any wagon rides that stand out after 19 years of guiding?
Once I had a very small group, just two or three couples. We usually don’t let people off the wagon during the ride, but I’d been clued in ahead of time that something special was in the works. One couple asked if they could get down at the Sawmill/Pigpen building, which now houses the Maple Experience. They got down, and the man asked his girlfriend to marry him. She said yes. The other couples were their family and friends, so they popped out the champagne. And on the way back, the script went out the window!

I found out later the couple ended up getting married at The Rocks.

What keeps you coming back each year as a guide at The Rocks?
I think it’s just the happiness on the wagons. It gets me in the Christmas spirit. People are there to get the tree. It’s a happy family experience. It’s a time that they just enjoy. Along the way, they learn something about the Forest Society, about how Christmas trees are grown, what life was like back at the turn of the last century.

People are just happy on those wagons!

To find out more about what's happening at The Rocks this season, please visit us online, and stay tuned to our Blog... Our shops are now open daily, and the farm opens for cut-your-own and retail Christmas tree sales THIS weekend, Nov. 22!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Merry Wreath Makers at The Rocks

Pam Dexter outside the blacksmith shop at The Rocks Estate
There is a small and imaginative band of women who arrive at The Rocks Estate in November, before the hustle and bustle of the holidays has brightened the stark landscape of pre-winter. Armed with glue guns and ribbon, pinecones and berries, these Merry Wreath Makers work as hard and as secretly as Santa’s Elves through the quiet days of November and into the jolly arrival of December.

Their mission: decorate thousands of plain circles of fragrant greens to create beautiful, festive, and whimsical wreaths that will adorn hotel lobbies, covered bridges, and countless front doors locally and across the country.

The Merry Wreath Makers at The Rocks – Pam Dexter, Janet Hill, Bouquette Jones, Hilary Tuite, and Julie Ferland – decorate more than 2,000 wreaths each year. Their creations get shipped to mail order customers, carted to local inns, and picked up by happy holiday shoppers at The Rocks throughout the season.

The wreaths arrive unadorned at the start of November from suppliers in the northern reaches of New Hampshire. These blank slates of green are piled in the former blacksmith shop at the historic Rocks Estate, where boxes of pinecones from Maine, dried statice flowers and canella berries, and yard upon yard of festive ribbon mingle with dusty old carriage bolts and horse shoes sized for working steeds.

Bouquette Jones
Hill wears colorful wreath earrings to set the mood. But they hold off on the Christmas music until around Thanksgiving, when hundreds of wreaths have been decorated and moved to cold storage, and many already sold.

The Rocks’ online shop lists a dozen unique wreath styles, from the best-selling Rocks Traditional Wreath – trimmed with a pretty combination of pinecones, statice, and cinnamon sticks – to the endearing Chris Moose Wreath. But sometimes the Merry Wreath Makers simply follow their whimsy each day, adding berries here and pinecones there, tucking bright red cardinal ornaments and berries into the greens for a pop of color.

Dexter makes all the bows – some 3,000 each year – starting in March and working through the summer to restock before wreath-making season.

Once the wreaths are decorated, they’re hung on wall rails, where Vanessa Francis, who operates as wreath quality control officer at The Rocks, gathers them by the armful to load onto the trailer parked outside. From there, the wreaths are transported to cold storage and hung by style in a barn out back, by the lot that will be filled with fresh-cut Christmas trees come Thanksgiving week.

On busy December weekends two staff members are tasked solely with moving wreaths from storage to the Farm Store, where customers swoop them up nearly as soon as they’re restocked.

For those who like to deck the halls early, The Rocks Marketplace and Farm Store are open daily now through December 24th (closed Thanksgiving day) from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Our Christmas tree lot opens November 22nd, when the farm will also begin Cut-Your-Own tree season and related holiday activities.

We hope to see you soon at The Rocks!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

NH viewers and readers agree: The Rocks is tops in Christmas trees!

We take a lot of pride at The Rocks Estate in providing a complete holiday experience. So it was great to see The Rocks land near the top of the WMUR-TV list of viewers’ favorite New Hampshire tree farms (in the third spot) and at the tippety top of the Union Leader Readers' Choice polling!

But we’re not resting on our laurels… This season we’re bringing back the time-tested festivities our customers love so much that many of them have been returning to The Rocks for countless years’ worth of Christmas trees and holiday cheer.

That means horse-drawn carriage rides through the historic Rocks Estate property, roasting marshmallows around the fire pit, and – of course – meandering through the fields at the farm in search of that perfect Christmas tree to cut and bring home.

We’ll also be visited by a more recent favorite to The Rocks: our own Green Father Christmas, who will give fir tree seedlings to children. And our two shops – The Rocks Marketplace and the Farm Store – are chockfull of fantastic gifts, fabulous decorations, and festive cheer for the holidays.

The Rocks Marketplace
If you’ve been to The Rocks before, we hope you agree with WMUR-TV viewers and the folks who read the Union Leader. And we hope to see you again soon! If you haven’t visited us at The Rocks Estate, we invite you to come by this holiday season and see what all the fuss is about.

Our two shops are open daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Our cut-your-own Christmas tree season (and retail tree sales) begins Nov. 22. The holiday cheer, of course, is served up all day, every day!