Famous Florida Christmas tree farm closing after 38 wonderful years in business

Christmas Trees For Sale — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Image by: Checubus

For over a generation, the Unicorn Hill Christmas Tree Farm has been the catalyst of countless holiday memories in Florida. From six different species of pine, families choose their tree, have it chopped down, and then have it affixed to the roof of their car for the trip to its new home.

However, this year will be the last for those who have been making that annual stop since 1984.

John and Cathryn Gregory, both 78 years old, who have been operating the farm at 3605 NW 69th St. in Gainesville for 38 years, have made the decision to retire.

But they claimed the choice had already been made at that point in time.

”(This was) the first year we didn’t buy new seedlings to plant, I cried,” Cathryn said. “I could not believe we were not planting seedlings.”

According to Cathryn, roughly half of the visitors to the farm are regulars, some of whom have been coming for a long time.

“We’ve had several who brought their young children when we first opened and now those kids have children and they come,” she said.

It’s those specific memories the Gregorys will miss the most.

“It’s about the people who come out,” John said. “We sell an experience.”

“I loved everything except pruning trees,” the wife added with a laugh.

They both decided that they would keep operating the farm if they could.

“We have some health issues, the both of us, which really mitigates our ability to get around and do all the work,” she said.

The pair said they only plan to sell roughly 100 trees this year, down from about 300 last year. They calculate that needle cast, a fungus that causes the needles to turn brown and fall off, has killed around 70 percent of their trees.

The trees they do have won’t survive for very long.

Gregory’s initial encounter was in Westport, Connecticut.

The origins of the Unicorn Hill Christmas Tree Farm can be traced back to Westport, Connecticut, where John and Cathryn first met as Staples High School teachers. Later, they relocated to Columbus, Ohio, where they each attended Ohio State University to earn advanced degrees.

In 1977, they relocated to Gainesville, where Cathryn was able to realize a childhood ambition of hers: to own a farm with plenty of pine trees like her grandpa had in New Hampshire. She claimed that she had known from the beginning that the place would bear her love of the fabled and elusive unicorn as its moniker.

“I never thought that would happen,” she said of the 15-acre land. “That was my unicorn. That elusive dream.”

However, selling Christmas trees wasn’t always the goal.

As a doctoral student in the University of Florida’s landscape architecture department, Cathryn’s intern’s fiancé was seeking for a place to finish his final project while she was working as a teacher at Buchholz High School, according to Cathryn.

The Gregorys alleged he first sought to plant four blueberry bushes on their grounds before offering up their property. Every single one of them passed away. Then, he found inspiration at a Christmas tree farm in Lake City.

“He came down and said, ’How about Christmas trees,” John recalled. “We said, ‘Why not.’”

Cathryn and John said they have plans to relax after selling the trees that are leftover and enjoy their time with each other on the land they created.

“I think there’s something very important about this land right here, and more forested areas in Gainesville. We’ve begun to cut so many trees, clear-cut acres and acres at a time,” Cathryn said. “We’re really doing a disservice to our community.”

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