Specializing in pre-cut trees, Holly Acres has lately seen an increase in demand for live, potted trees.
Photos courtesy of Holly Acres Nursery

by Enrico Villamaino

It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many yuletide growers, Christmas can also be the most profitable time of the year.

“There are years when our Christmas tree sales account for over half of our annual revenue,” said Holly Acres Nursery’s Kelley Bonds. Located in Elizabeth, CO, Holly Acres is owned and operated by Kelley and her husband James.

Yes, his name is James Bonds. No, his parents were not playing a joke on him. And yes, he’s heard every variation of 007-themed play and pun on his name that you can imagine.

The two met through the course of business. Kelley, originally from New Mexico, worked in liquor wholesale and retail, and Colorado native James managed several bars and taverns.

Kelley has always had a green thumb, and spent her youth operating a farm stand on her parents’ property in Albuquerque. Restrictions on farm stands in Colorado spurred Kelley into getting involved in local farmers markets. Eventually she and James were able to realize their dream of owning their own business when they opened Holly Acres on a five-acre plot in 2005.

Kelley is quick to point out that while she had a great deal of experience with the actual cultivation of plants, operating a nursery or garden center was uncharted territory at that time. “I owe a lot to our employee Steve Fritz,” she said. “He really walked us through the ins and outs of running a garden center.”

Holly Acres offers customers a wide selection of flowering, shade and fruit trees, including apples, pears, plums, cherries, peaches  and apricots. Also available is an ample array of shrubs for landscaping, perennials and various vegetables.

Kelley estimates that the breakdown of Holly Acres’ revenue is 50% wholesale and 50% retail. She noted, “Our distribution spans the entire state of Colorado, along with portions of Kansas and Wyoming.”

And as for the Christmas trees? “That’s our primary focus for about six months out of the year,” Kelley explained. “And in the seasons we sell Christmas trees wholesale, that can account for well over half the money we make in a year.”

Specializing in pre-cut trees, Holly Acres has lately seen an increase in demand for live, potted trees. “People have really shown an interest in getting trees they can enjoy for longer than just the holiday season. Our potted Christmas trees are a great option for that,” she said.

Conifer connoisseurs can choose between balsam, Frazier, Noble, Douglas, Nordmann, Grand, Canaan and Concolor firs, as well as Scotch and white pines and Black Hills spruce. Kelley has found in her experience that “Frazier and Noble firs are the most popular. But due to the weakened economic climate in 2008, there was less replanting of these trees. They typically take five to eight years to reach maturity. It’s hard to find many of those over eight feet tall right now. So now they’re a little more scarce and cost a bit more. Scotch and white pines provide a more economical option.”

Asked what her personal favorite Christmas tree cultivar is, Kelley offered up an underdog. “I really love the Canaan fir. It’s by far the most fragrant,” she answered. “It smells fantastic and can make your whole house smell like a forest.” She admitted, however, “The smell can hit you like a brick…it’s not for everybody.”

An annual tradition at Holly Acres is its Christmas festival. Taking place the weekend after Thanksgiving, the event has something for everyone. “Guests can see Santa, or try our carriage and pony rides. We also have a petting zoo, a bungee-trampoline, face painting and balloon art. Kids can make ornaments and decorate wreaths with Santa’s elves while parents select that perfect fresh-cut Christmas tree or taste wine and foods from local artisans,” Kelley said.

Very much a family business, Kelley is confident that Holly Acres will remain in good hands in the years to come. She and James have five children, and their daughter – Bonds, Sarah Bonds, 23 – is currently working as a manager and readying herself to take the reins from her parents someday.

For more information, visit www.hollyacresnursery.com .