San Gabriel Gardens Christmas Tree Farm packs a lot into a few acres on the San Gabriel River east of Georgetown
San Gabriel Gardens Christmas tree farm packs a lot into a few acres on the San Gabriel River east of Georgetown. In the field below the farmhouse and old red barn there are long rows of pine trees, a large vegetable garden, assorted dogs, and a donkey named Hershey.
The chocolate-colored pet with big donkey ears has become the greeter for the farm. She watches every car as it pulls up to the barn with the concentration of a guard dog. "We let kids feed carrots to Hershey," Junell Paul says. "Now she starts braying as soon as she sees kids get out of a car." Always seeking human attention, Hershey follows along the fence with visitors as they ride the hay trailer to the choose-and-cut Christmas trees.
The conical pine trees are stationed in long rows on the side of a hill like sentries, ranging from knee-high to 14 feet tall. Junell and LeRoy Paul added Christmas trees to their hay and vegetable farm in 2000. The long-needled Afghan pines have thrived in the fertile river bottom land. "Even though they're a desert pine," Mrs. Paul says, "they respond to water beautifully."
On the 43-acre farm only two acres are used to grow Christmas trees, which yield about 1,200 trees. The trees require trimming throughout the year to maintain their shape. Because the Pauls use herbicides sparingly, the crop requires more manual labor.
"My husband is always coming up with something new," Mrs. Paul says. "Christmas trees turned out to be more work than we realized. We're having to mow all the time." Fortunately, the parents of three children have 10 grandchildren to help out around the farm. "They'll work for cookies," Grandma says.
These are no ordinary cookies because Grandma is quite the accomplished cook. With a certified commercial kitchen added to the 1888 farmhouse, Mrs. Paul is known for her baked goods at the Taylor and Round Rock farmers' markets. Her cakes and cookies sell quickly, but it is the yeast rolls (similar to cinnamon rolls) that are most popular.
The baked goods are available at the farm during Christmas tree season in the gift shop in the barn. Along with pastries, Mrs. Paul sells fresh wreaths and pottery made by her daughter, complemented by hot coffee.
For the kids, the best part of the old barn is the haystack. The Pauls thought people would like to see how hay is stored, but it turned out that the city kids love climbing on it. In typical grandparent fashion, they let the kids have fun.
Junell and LeRoy look like the perfect Midwestern farm couple. He is tall and rangy with a soft-spoken grandpa demeanor. She hides her age behind a pleasant smile. He was born and raised in Austin and worked for several years as a painting contractor. They met when she was a young farm girl from Pflugerville working as a typist in downtown Austin.
When they purchased the farm in 1980 it was going to be their retirement home. "Most everybody thought we were crazy," Mrs. Paul says. "We grow everything from potatoes to tomatoes," she says. The fall crop of chard, beets, spinach, and carrots have been planted. She says the cucumbers and squash will die off at the first hint of a frost if the bugs don't get them first. "The grasshoppers know where we're at," she says. She has already lost much of her spinach crop.
San Gabriel Gardens Christmas tree farm opens the day after Thanksgiving for the Christmas season, which runs through Dec. 21. Hershey the donkey will be greeting visitors to the farm on Friday and Saturday, 10am to dark; Sunday, 1pm to dark; or by appointment. To get to the farm from Georgetown, take TX 29 east to TX 95, turn left, cross the river, take the first right (CR 347), and go eight-tenths of a mile to the first farmhouse on the right. For information call 512/365-9230.
Cut-your-own farms have multiplied to more than 150 since the industry began in 1977. To locate a Christmas tree farm near you, go to www.texaschristmastrees.com.
702nd in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.