This Month in Mid-Atlantic Horticultural News
Mid-Atlantic Horticultural Rolodex
Pennsylvania family sends second tree to White House
By JANE W. GRAHAM
Chris Botek is proud of what he is doing for Christmas this year. He is supplying the Christmas tree for the White House, an honor that has come to his family twice.
Botek is one of only five Christmas tree growers in the nation to have won this honor two times.
The second generation Christmas tree grower from Leighton, Pa., was part of a family effort in 2006 when his parents Francis and Margaret Botek presented a tree grown on their Crystal Spring Tree Farm to First Lady Laura Bush.
This year Chris won the honor of presenting First Lady Michelle Obama a Christmas tree grown on his Crystal Spring Tree Farm II. He didn’t leave his family out of the proceedings. He was accompanied by his wife Brandy and their children as well as his parents.
Botek said any home in which his family places a real Christmas tree is important, but to place a real tree in the White House is a special honor. The tree that is displayed in the Blue Room of the President’s residence is literally the nation’s Christmas tree, he believes.
“You couldn’t get any greater honor than that,” he stated over the telephone in an interview well after dark in the middle of a busy tree-cutting season. He was still out working but took time to talk about his trees and the honor he had earned.
The path to the White House is a competition for a Christmas tree, much like it is for the man who lives there. It begins in the home state of the grower and requires years of hard work.
The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) reports that Francis and Margaret Botek began competing in Pennsylvania at the state level in 2005. They hoped to someday make it to the next level. The very first year they competed a Douglas fir grown on their Crystal Spring Tree Farm was named Pennsylvania Grand Champion by the state association. This win earned them the right to compete in the national contest in Portland, Ore. There their Douglas fir won the National Grand Champion title and a trip for the Boteks and one of their trees to the White House.
“Not to be outdone by his parents,” the national association reports, “Chris continued to compete at the state level for the next couple years under the business name of Crystal Spring Tree Farm II. Crystal Spring Tree Farm II was started during the gradual takeover of the business from Francis and Margaret to Chris.”
His parents’ win kept Chris from competing at the national level for three years, because the rules do not allow a family member of a winner to do so for that length of time.
His turn came this year when Chris won Reserve Grand Champion in Pennsylvania with a Douglas fir. This win gave him a chance to compete in the National Tree Contest at the National Christmas Tree Association Annual Convention held in Winston-Salem, N.C., in August, the NCTA reports. “After a lot of thought and deliberation, Chris decided to compete in Winston-Salem with a Colorado blue spruce.”
He got the good news at the closing banquet in Winston-Salem when the national winner was announced. It was his Colorado blue spruce.
“An honor like this rarely happens once in a lifetime, but to have it happen twice is truly a blessing,” he said then.
Members of the White House staff came to the Crystal Spring Tree Farm II on Sept. 28 and hand picked the tree they thought best suited for the Blue Room, a release from NCTA indicates. Chris himself had planted the tree many years ago.
The Botek family’s interest in Christmas trees dates back to the 1930s when they began selling Christmas trees at a small family-owned grocery store. From that experience grew an interest in raising the trees. Francis’ parents first planted two acres of Scotch pines near here. Francis, the youngest child, enjoyed working with the trees, NCTA reported, and in 1964 expanded, when he and Margaret bought 25 acres in the Mahoning Valley.
The business, which now includes a choose-and-cut element, grew from there as did the family’s commitment to putting real trees in people’s homes at Christmas.