Christmas Trees for Family, From Family

Joseph Montalbano  |   Friday Dec. 1st, 2023

With that time of year rapidly approaching, we wanted to look into one of the staples of the holiday season: the Christmas tree. Specifically, we were interested in only the real deal, none of those fake trees. Although they can be convenient, they just don’t have that special something that real trees can offer. No, we were dedicated to digging into a locally prominent source of Christmas trees, and looked no further than the family-owned and operated Cashman Nursery, run by Jerry and Jan Cashman alongside their kind and cheery sons, Joe and Mike.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Jan Cashman, who struck me as a kind, honest, and pleasant woman. A well-studied gardener, she has been published many times in Prime, A Magazine for Mature Adults, in the garden segments. Jan knows her stuff when it comes to plants, in a way I found myself humbled by. In fact, before our interview, she and her kind staff directed me to a few solutions for my houseplants, which had previously seemed to attract and breed fungus gnats that have been bothering me for weeks, until implementing the solutions Cashman Nursery recommended.

I asked Jan about the history of Cashman Nursery and its long, storied time in the Bozeman area. It was fascinating to hear how far back the family roots ran. Jerry’s grandfather, Eugene, founded the business in Minnesota back in 1889 as a wholesale and retail garden center. From there, the business grew until Jerry and Jan moved to Bozeman in 1975, building the current nursery in 1976, starting the almost fifty years of success they have enjoyed to this day. With over one hundred years of history and family dedicated to growing things, is it any wonder that Jerry and Jan have continued that tradition?

However, Cashman’s did not sell Christmas trees until 1978. Before then, they saw no need to because of the low cost of a permit to go into the woods and source your own trees. They found their market, due to the convenience and the aesthetic their trees have to offer, but the original reasons for starting selling Christmas trees was much more mundane.

“We just wanted to give our workers something to do over the winter. There’s not much going on in this business during the winter otherwise,” Jan reflected.

After talking about the history of the business, I dove into the brass tacks of what trees they have to offer this Christmas. Jan told me they offer a wide selection of various kinds of trees, the idea being to have at least one species that fits the desires and needs of the customer. They have Lodgepole pine, Fraser fir, White fir, Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, Balsam fir, and Alpine fir rounding out their extensive offerings. Jan also commented on the changing tastes and options in trees since they started doing this.

“Nobody had even heard of a Fraser fir twenty-five, thirty years ago,” she mentioned. “Now, they’re very popular.”

We also discussed the difference between their “plantation” (farmed) trees, and the ones they source from the local mountains. According to Jan, trees from the mountains are special, because they aren’t perfect. They feel more natural, whereas the ‘plantation’ trees are more aesthetically pleasing, due to extensive pruning and manicuring during the growing process, to make them look fuller and more picture-perfect. Depending on which you value, the plantation trees and the wild-sourced ones offer a place for personal tastes and help inform your decision on what to pick for this upcoming Christmas.

Jan was of the opinion that fake trees, while growing popular all over the country, just haven’t seemed to stick here in Bozeman, where people want to experience the tangible qualities of authentic trees: the smell that lingers in your living room, the rough feel of bark and the soft but prickly needles. All of it, Jan feels, is important to a considerable proportion of Bozemanites.

That realness in their trees and the family’s attitude towards customers is irreplaceable. Cashman Nursery is more than happy to cater to the desires of the community. For Jerry, the act of selling these trees is a deeply personal experience.

“Jerry has a great memory; he remembers every customer by what tree they bought the previous year,” Jan commented. “He’d say, ‘you bought a white pine last year,’ even when the customers didn’t always remember what they bought themselves.”

Jerry is always making powerful connections with the community, according to Jan, who reminisced about one family who would always take a picture of their children and their Christmas tree, with Jerry traditionally posing alongside them to usher in the Christmas season.

Speaking to the business aspect of running a Christmas tree lot, Jan warned of the dangers of unsold stock. Too much competition can lead to many trees going unsold. “Those unsold trees are worthless the day after Christmas, and leftovers can ruin someone who is starting out fresh in the business,” she said.

Jan noted that Cashman Nursery is well established enough that a bad year for Christmas trees is bearable, but can still lead to odd and comical scrambles to offload stock. One year, when competition was fierce, and Cashman Nursery had a large bulk of trees unsold, they sold the entire leftover stock to a goat farmer, of all people, whose animals were more than happy to chew on the trees for an easy meal.

When concluding the interview with Jan, I asked a question about something I had noticed when perusing the Cashman Nursery website. The blurb read, “It has long been a tradition at Cashman Nursery to give a tree to the parents of a new baby. Bring your baby to meet us, and we will give him or her a free tree!”

The curiosity in me was too great, and we were at least on the subject of trees, so I had to ask where such a tradition came from.

“It came from Jerry’s grandparents,” Jan explained. “They would always give young apple trees to families that came by with newborns, so the kids can pick apples by the time they enter school.” She laughed and told me that this time of year, the nursery would ask people to come back in the spring, since they have no apple trees in stock during the winter.

After my time spent at Cashman Nursery, I can safely say that the meaningful Christmas we all seek is well cared for, thanks to Jan, Jerry, and their family providing the community with marvelous trees for forty-five years. Keep a look out for their lot opening up across from Bozeman High School for the season. The nursery itself was also a truly pleasant place to be, and I would recommend taking the time to get over there and see which of their trees speaks to you as perfect for your home.

I want to sincerely thank Jan Cashman for taking the time out of her day to talk with me. She was under no obligations to humor me, but did nonetheless and was happy to chat. If you end up buying a tree from Cashman Nursery this year, let them know Bozeman Magazine sent you, and enjoy your Christmas.  

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