Time of the year to branch out

Letting Christmas trees go to pot offers wide-ranging and long-lasting festive options, says Peter Dowdall.

Where did the tradition of bringing an evergreen tree into the house and decorating it with lights and baubles originate?

I sometimes think that it’s quite obscene that millions of trees are simply cut down each year to be used as decorations for a few short weeks and then disposed of.

But the other side of that is that they are grown as crops on land that may otherwise be developed.

When they are felled it’s not similar to removing trees from ‘real’ forests or woodlands.

When one is felled more are replanted to service the ongoing demand.

They grow well on poor soil and in harsh locations where other crops may not be viable. Like all trees, as they are growing they will act as environmental mops, filtering the air, absorbing pollutants in the atmosphere and storing carbon in their timber thus playing an important part in the struggle against global warming.

The tradition of using evergreen plants in the home goes back well before Christmas was celebrated and even pre-dates Christianity.

Homes were decorated with evergreen boughs and branches during the time of the winter solstice to symbolise the power of life over death and the onset of a new year as the sun, which was revered as a god, began to gain in strength once more.

Plants which were evergreen were revered and in Celtic mythology, they were used as symbols of everlasting life, while the Vikings believed that evergreens were the plant of choice of the sun god, Balder.

It was during the 1700s that the tradition of cutting down an entire conifer and using the tree as a decoration inside the home first started. Martin Luther is accredited with being the first to decorate a tree with lighted candles which he used to represent the stars in the winter sky.

It wasn’t until the 1800s when German national Charles Follen, a Harvard college professor, first attached lighting candles to a Christmas tree in New England, that the tradition began on the other side of the Atlantic.

I can only imagine that the invention of electricity couldn’t come quickly enough and the lighted candles were replaced with electric lights.

According to a newspaper report, it was Edward Hibberd Johnson, the business partner of Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric lightbulb who first decorated a Christmas tree with lights in 1882.

Christmas is my favourite time of the year and I can’t imagine a home without a tree as the centrepiece. We sit around it and remember those now departed during the month of December and beyond, we place presents underneath, in short, it becomes the focus of the home during the Christmas season.

No seasonal setting or image is complete without the Abies nordmanniana or similar, in the picture.

What about using a living Christmas tree inside instead of cutting one down? There are several advantages to doing this.

You’re not felling a living tree, you will also have much more choice of species available and after the festivities are over you will have a fine healthy tree to either plant in your garden to enjoy for years to come or to grow on in a large pot to bring in for the next several Christmas seasons.

Most cut trees available are either Noble Fir (Abies procera) or Nordman Fir (Abies nordmanniana) as they are the two commercially grown species which are best in terms of foliage colour and shape.

However, there is a huge range of conifers which could be used and will serve as a more interesting addition to the garden afterwards. Some of the Pinus genus make stunning garden specimens and will create a beautiful effect indoors as living Christmas trees.

If using a living tree indoors remember that they are just that, living. It will be used to growing outside in the cold and wet winter climate so be careful not to kill it with kindness.

The shock of moving into a warm centrally heated house stuck between a radiator and an open fire could prove too much for it.

Better to locate the tree in a cooler part of the home away from direct heat sources and even then, I wouldn’t advise having one indoors for longer than a fortnight.

When you do move them outside again after Christmas, I would do it gradually, move them to a half-way house type situation for a week or so.

A carport or unheated glasshouse or polytunnel would be ideal so that they can acclimatise gradually to the outdoors once more.

Splash of winter colour

    Don’t forget to make use of pots and containers which may have been consigned to the shed for the winter or, worse still, left out with dead summer bedding plants.

    Check that there is no sign of vine weevil grubs, then empty the contents into the compost bin or even on the soil beneath established planting, and fill with fresh topsoil and compost.

    There are so many plants available now offering colour for the winter months that your choice is greater than ever.

    Whichever way you decide to go, don’t leave those pots empty for I don’t believe a house is truly decorated unless there is some natural colour outside.

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