Inspiring delight and building traditions lie at the heart of Nat and Jared Mendham’s unique business. Whilst for most of us Christmas comes but once a year, the Mendham’s live and breathe it throughout each of Tasmania’s four distinct seasons. “It’s so much more challenging than we anticipated,” laughs Jared. “But also so much more rewarding.”

This energetic couple farm treasured family memories. Owning and operating the only Christmas tree farm in southern Tassie – that they’re aware of – Nat and Jared have been overwhelmed with local enthusiasm since its establishment in 2012. “We’ve built some lovely connections with so many people who come back year after year,” describes Nat. “It’s pretty special being part of their family tradition and watching their kids grow up. We now have children coming along that are six or seven years old that we’ve known since they were in utero.”

Flinging open the farm gates each December, the Richmond Christmas Tree Farm is not so much a farm, but an experience. Families can come in, wander the rows of the Mendham’s country property and hand pick their Christmas tree of choice. “We have a variety of sizes,” says Nat. “Everyone is after that special tree to fit their own home. It’s wonderful watching the children run around and shout out to their parents that they’ve found just the right one.”

“When we were younger we lived in Vancouver for quite a few years,” explains Jared. “My brother had worked on a Christmas tree farm over there previously, so we spent a bit of time visiting that farm and really came to enjoy the tradition of choosing our own tree together as a young family. When we returned to Tasmania we thought it was something that our friends would enjoy too. Having the land available here in the Coal River Valley…well, it seemed like something we could make a go of.”

The first 1000 trees the Mendham’s planted grew incredibly well. “Back then we had a good year of rain and the results were great,” continues Jared. “But ever since then we’ve had some ups and downs and it’s certainly been a challenge to replicate that initial success.”

The closest weekend to December 1 is earmarked as Open Day on the farm. “This is the time to come and select your tree,” says Nat. “Things have now built to a point where we introduced a ticketing system for the first time ever this year. It’s something that worked really well. People could jump online, buy a ticket, and know that there would be a tree available. We were stunned when we opened the ticketing for the first time and they sold out in seven minutes!”

Indeed, the farm seems to have become an annual pilgrimage for many Hobart locals. “As soon as we post the details on social media in November things just go crazy,” laughs Nat. “People tag their friends as they know things sell out quickly here. There are those whispers of scarcity as there are not many places left where you can go and source your own tree anymore. For us, it’s about keeping that beautiful tradition alive.”

“Most of our customers are young families,” Nat continues. “They’ve established this as a firm day on the calendar and love spending that time with their children. We have hundreds of groups through here on Open Day now and it’s just a whole lot of fun for everyone. Even on the most terrible of days when it’s raining and everyone is muddy out in the paddocks, they all come away with huge smiles on their faces. The beautiful scent of the pines seems to cut through everything else.”

Wandering the rows on Open Day, visitors can choose to have their tree cut down on the spot, or tag it for collection later in the month. “We have a great team and they love being involved in the festivities,” describes Jared. “They are on hand to take ‘elfies’ and then coordinate the removal of the trees. Our aim is to make it a fun occasion and families really get into the spirit by spending a good part of their day here.”

I’m not sure there would be many other farms that have all of their action confined to one day of the year. We get pummelled on Open Day, but that’s the nature of what we do. It’s hectic and exhausting, but fantastic at the same time.”

The ‘elfie’ spot has quickly turned into a favourite for many. “Each year now we set up a photo point on the farm,” says Nat. “We have a basket of props and just encourage people to have a bit of fun. It’s become like a santa photo for many now and we’re often sent ‘elfies’ from many of our visitors. That’s pretty special.”

Open Day has now expanded to include a beautiful boutique market. “We noticed pretty early on that people wanted to hang around here,” recalls Nat. “They didn’t just want to grab and tree and go. They wanted to engage with us, to relax and watch others choose their trees, to have something to eat, and just enjoy their time together. So we started by getting a coffee van in here and some seating…now that’s extended to our Christmas market which is a great collection of local businesses bringing in their produce. This year we had everything from wine, cider and pizzas to beautiful skincare products, Christmas cakes and all manner of festive decorative items. It adds a great vibe to the day and it’s really turned into a great event.”

Jared explains the virtues of the perfect Christmas tree. “It’s all about the structure and density. We spend a lot of time pruning and maintaining the trees and continue to learn more and more each year.” Honest in his approach, Jared continues, “We touch base with another Christmas tree farm on the mainland and swap our learnings about growth and pruning, but at the end of the day we learn as we go and we’ve come a long way by trial and error.”

Perched on 25 glorious acres in the Coal River Valley just outside of Hobart, Richmond Christmas Tree Farm resides in a district largely known for viticulture. “What we are doing is similar in many ways to that,” agrees Jared, “We’re surrounded by vineyards, and orchards out here, and have learnt from some of their practices, but it’s also different in many ways too.”

Generally speaking, it takes four to six years for the trees to reach optimum height. “Three and a half years is certainly our goal,” says Nat. “But as with all types of farming, things are dependent on so many variables. We’re constantly refining what we do and trialing new techniques.”

Jared goes on to explain how the farm is moving towards increased environmental sustainability. “We’re focused on soil health as we move away from synthetic inputs,” he says. “In the coming rotations we’ll been introducing some new ideas to control weeds and browsing pressure, which are safe – even beneficial for the soil and the biodiversity of the farm, bushland, dam and creeks.” 

Picking up the conversation, Nat adds, “We do love the fact that these trees are tying up carbon for about four years too. But we did find that people often asked us for tips on what to do with their trees after Christmas, so we’re now introducing a ‘tree-cycle’ weekend each January. This is an opportunity for people to drop their trees back off to us and we will mulch them and use that mulch back out on the farm. It’s the full cycle.”

As with just about all farms, weed management is a constant battle for the Mendham’s. “We’re continuing to try new ways to deal with that too, and have hatched a few new plans to try over the course of next year. Fine tuning our rotations and dealing with browsing pressures are also priorities. We have certainly come to respect the fact that agriculture presents a lot of variables.”

Still holding down full time day jobs, it’s clear the farm is a labour of love for these two Tasmanians. “We’re definitely committed here and planning growth for the future,” says Jared. “We have the land to expand but at the same time we are working to make sure we have the right systems in place to be able to manage that growth. There is a fine line between good growth and bad growth so we are consciously building something we can sustain as a family business.”

It’s hard to beat golden hour out on the farm. “These evenings when the sun is going down and the birds are heading to roost are just magical,” sighs Nat, letting her eyes rove across the quiet countryside spread before her. “It’s been great getting to know the property, we now know every inch of it…how the winds come and how the sun moves across. We’re so grateful to have the privilege of taking care of this beautiful piece of land.”

Find out more about the Richmond Christmas Tree Farm via their website or by following them on Instagram and Facebook.