Arkansas Wonderland Brings Life to Holiday Spirit

Wonderland Tree Farm draws families year after year to choose the trees that will make the holiday special.

Story by Mary Dansak, Photos by Amanda Boswell, Free Dove Photography

The evergreen trees stand straight and tall like sentries across the fields. The saws in the shop are sharpened in preparation for their work ahead, and the smell of fresh hay in the wagon mingles with the warm scent of hot chocolate and peppermint. The gift shop gleams, filled with ornaments and decorations that sparkle and shine. The sound of bells and carols rings the air. A family arrives, and children burst from the car, eager to begin the Christmas season with their annual visit to Wonderland Tree Farm.  

The magic of Christmas is officially here. 

For many families, a visit to Wonderland Tree Farm, a full-service Christmas tree farm located in Pea Ridge, Arkansas, is a beloved tradition. Rated number one in the top 21 Christmas tree farms in the country by Country Living Magazine, Wonderland truly lives up to its name.  

Now a 38-acre enterprise, its beginnings were humble. “We started in Omaha, Arkansas, with a small tree farm called Christmas in the Omahas, selling mostly to Christmas tree suppliers,” said Jill Babb, who, along with her husband Martin, a retired ship captain and merchant Marine, owns, manages, and lives on the farm. 

“When our children moved to this area, we felt our heartstrings pulled,” she says. “We moved to Pea Ridge and opened a new tree farm on eight and half acres. One day I was sitting and doing my makeup and heard a knock at the door. My husband came in and said, ‘You’re not going to believe who that was.’ 

“’It was the farmer behind us,’ I said, ‘and he wants to sell us his 30 acres.’  

“He said, ‘How do you know that?’  

“I answered, ‘I don’t know; God just prepared my heart for it.’” 

This leap of faith took Martin out of the water for good.  

Now with a much larger tree farm on their hands, the challenge was getting the word out about their enterprise. Their children and grandchildren stepped up, explaining that old fashioned things like billboards were no longer the path to recognition, and the youngsters took to social media. 

“I don’t even understand Tik Tok and Facebook and all that, but the kids do,” Jill laughs, adding, “It’s such a magical experience here, our customers provide advertising through word of mouth. People come in the door saying they were told they must come to Wonderland.” 

For five weeks during the year, families pour in from as far away as Texas to participate in their own traditional Christmas tree cutting experience. Music, piped in magically by the elves, fills the air as children, parents, grandparents, and well-behaved dogs grab their hand saws and wander the lot, searching for the perfect Christmas tree. 

Families choose between six types of trees: Virginia Pine, Scotch Pine, Leyland Cyprus, White Pine, Fraser Fir, and Turkish Fir, each with its own character. According to Jill, the moms prefer the firs, the only trees not grown on the farm, with their sturdier stems. The kids like the Virginia and White pines. They have soft needles, easy to cut and decorate.  

“They might be my favorite,” confides Jill. 

After discovering their perfect tree, customers cut and carry it with the help of a tree cart to the tree corral, where the cherished conifer is shaken, netted, and loaded onto the car. The fun doesn’t end there.  

“Whole families come into the gift shop, where they pay for the tree. I’d envisioned just the parent with the wallet coming in. Had I known, I’d have built a bigger gift shop,” Jill says. 

Before leaving, children might decide to drop their letter to Santa in the festively decorated mailbox for speedy delivery to Santa’s Workshop. 

Originally, Wonderland opened the weekend after Thanksgiving. Due to popular demand, however, the Babbs decided to open the weekend prior. This prompted the “Early Bird Weekend,” perhaps the most popular weekend of the year, celebrated with special events such as finding the rubber duckies hidden throughout the trees.  

“This year I’ll have the grandkids dressed as giant roosters, handing out prizes,” Jill says.  

Following Thanksgiving, on Black Friday, Wonderland hosts Feliz Navi-Dog Day.  

“Dogs are always welcome,” Jill explains, “but we thought they should have their own special day.” With guests such as local groomers on site, and the local humane society bringing dogs available for adoption, all canine companions are celebrated on this special day.  

Complimentary hayrides and face painting are offered at all times. Jill and Martin, always looking for new ways to incorporate fun for families, have arranged pony rides for the youngsters this year. 

As well as catering to families, Wonderland Tree Farms is a professional photographers paradise. With vintage props like a red ’53 Chevy pickup, a classic teal and white camper, and even a Christmas sleigh available, photographers book slots to create family portraits which hearken to a timelessness we crave amidst the hurry and hustle of our contemporary lives.  

If visitors have particular needs or requests, the Babbs take care to honor them. 

“We live here, it’s our farm,” Jill says, with a jovial finality in her voice. “We can do what we want, what they want.” 

Christmas may come and go, but owning and operating a Christmas tree farm is a year-round endeavor.  

“The real work starts the day we close, and it never ends,” says Jill, who mows the 38.5 acres of fields every week. 

“As my husband says, we don’t own the farm, the farm owns us.” 

After the hustle and bustle of Christmas subsides, Martin and his workers get busy putting away all the Christmas equipment, removing tree stumps, and filling the holes. 

In February, weather permitting, it’s time to plant new trees, and 8,000 trees go into the ground each year. Workers then stake the individual trees to bamboo poles. It seems Christmas trees don’t develop such straight trunks on their own. 

Nor do Christmas trees grow in perfectly conical shapes.  

“Every single Virginia Pine is sheared three times a year,” Jill explained. “My husband is out from 4 a.m. until dark on a regular basis.” 

Spring brings new growth, as well as insects and weeds. This means more shearing, and the onset of the battle with the bugs. 

By summertime, the new trees are working up a mighty thirst. “It’s not as simple as turning on a hose,” Jill says. “It’s strategic. We have a drip irrigation system, we rotate fields, and even so, we have to watch the water supply.” 

The heat of summer then gives way to the chill of fall, which leaps headfirst into the frenzied rush. By October, the race is on. With Christmas just around the corner, there’s still work to be done. 

As well as mowing, Jill is in charge of the gift shop, which bursts with whimsical snowmen, smiling Santas, and plenty of little red trucks toting freshly cut Christmas trees, Wonderland’s logo. Jill restocks the gift shop, largely with items purchased from merchants she can visit in person.  

“My goal is to keep expenses down for the customer,” she says. “Visiting the gift shop is an event for the mamas, like the hayride is for the kids. Dads enjoy it too.”  

When asked the secret to the success of the farm, Jill couldn’t answer that directly.  

“It’s a vibe,” she says finally. “When you step out of your car at our farm, you’ve got the smells of the trees and the cookies, the music, all the senses are involved. Some people get emotional; we’ve seen tears. Our customer service is exceptional. We are a Christian family, and we run the farm like that. We stand behind our products, and we want to make it right for families. We involve the children. Our crew, a great group of young men, take time to talk to the kids.” 

It's difficult to put a finger on the magic of Wonderland. 

“It’s God’s place,” Jill says after a pause. “It’s God-blessed.”