In Maine, the Governor’s Yuletide Fir Is Put to a Referendum

For the third year in a row, Governor Mills will decorate the Blaine House with a tree grown by the winner of the Fryeburg Fair’s People’s Choice Christmas Tree competition.

The Blaine House, in Augusta, Maine, decked out for the holidays
Photo by Dave Dostie
By Virginia M. Wright
From our December 2023 issue

For the past 35 holiday seasons, the Kennebec Garden Club has decorated the Blaine House according to its occupants’ wishes. One year, Angus King proclaimed the governor’s mansion a veritable arboretum, installing a balsam in the drawing room, two Fraser firs in the sunroom, a Norway pine, a ficus, and several topiaries in the dining room, and handcrafted trees of pine cones and juniper branches in the bedrooms. In 2009, John Baldacci led by example, illuminating his trees with then-novel energy-efficient LED string lights. And for each of his eight Blaine House holidays, Paul LePage ruled conservatively, inviting military families to sip hot chocolate around trees trimmed to traditional themes, such as Winter Wonderland.

That brings us to Governor Janet Mills, whose holiday décor has celebrated accomplished Mainers, like history-making women, the pandemic’s essential workers, and, this year, authors. 

Mills also is the first governor to put the Blaine House’s tree selection to a popular vote. For the third year in a row, she’ll decorate the reception room with a tree grown by the winner of the Fryeburg Fair’s People’s Choice Christmas Tree competition. On November 27, Maine Christmas Tree Association president Ryan Liberty will put an eight-foot-tall balsam from Finestkind Tree Farms, in Dover-Foxcroft, into the bed of a turquoise 1957 Chevrolet Apache pickup and deliver it to Mills’s back door.

the winning tree of the Fryeburg Fair’s People’s Choice Christmas Tree competition
Photo by Tammie Mulvey

Tree growers covet the People’s Choice award, which is decided by voting fairgoers on opening day, but the Maine Christmas Tree Association holds another contest the day before that arguably confers even more prestige upon its winner because it’s judged by experienced nurserymen. This year’s judges, Calvin Luther, of Bucksport’s Penobscot Evergreens, and Rick Eastman, the former longtime owner of Fryeburg’s Western Maine Nurseries, subjected each of the 28 unlabeled entries to a full physical exam. They measured tips, calculated the angle of the tapers, spread apart branches to eyeball trunks, ran their fingers through the needles, and got down on hands and knees to access the length of the bases and the evenness of the cuts. Whenever they found a fault, they lopped points from that tree’s starting score of 230. Gap in the foliage? Snip! Five points gone. Multiple trunks? Chop! Ten points fall. 

And the grand champion was . . . Finestkind, the very same balsam favored by fairgoers. Finestkind’s competitors weren’t surprised: the nursery has snagged the purple ribbon 21 times in 22 years, thanks to a proprietary seed stock that produces thick, uniformly shaped trees requiring no pruning. This year’s entry made it through the judges’ inspection without a single deduction — and also accrued 25 bonus points. “There’s no such thing as a perfect tree,” Eastman said, “but this one is pretty close.” 

Finestkind owner Duane LaCasce has chosen a fresh likeness of his winning tree for the Blaine House display. A Fraser fir grown by the judges’ runner-up, Pleasant View Tree Farm, in Hodgdon, is destined for Governor Mills’s upstairs apartment. Tree growers across the state are now grooming next year’s candidates for the Blaine House position. It demands poise and polish but, hallelujah, no politics.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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