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A Green Christmas
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

December 17, 2012

The tradition of the Christmas tree is fraught with conflict, suppression, and manipulation. It has been seen as both anti-Christian and anti-pagan; it has been used as political statement; and, it has been used as nothing more than an extravagance for the posh drawing room. For the most part, retail purposes ignored, today’s Christmas tree has come to represent family togetherness, and a communal expression of hope and good will. In many Christian homes, the symbolism of the tree itself has little to do with religious expression: you will find nativities and crèches and other representatives of faith situated in places of honour.

Let’s just say, that for whatever the reason a family uses to bring a tree into the home, today’s tree represents goodness and that is enough. Folks are already bringing in the green- especially the Christmas tree- into their homes to add festive cheer and decoration. For me, it is a titch early as I grew up with the tradition of the tree coming into the house shortly before Christmas and then exiting on New Year’s Day. Not only that, the tree was usually a white spruce- prickly and stinky. Stinky in the sense of smelling like cat pee and prickly in the sense of the needles always being able to find the most tender part of my face as I rummaged, secretly, through the presents.

(The “stinky” bit is not connected with my copyrighted phrase “the air is redolent with the stench of rotting tree carcasses.” Stinky actually does mean it doesn’t smell good, at least to me. I would say the most pleasantly fragrant tree is the balsam fir, and it doesn’t matter if it’s from Nova Scotia or Ontario.)

The bottom line of a cut Christmas tree is the bottom or lack thereof. The top of the tree is dead; it just doesn’t know it yet. The length of time for cellular consciousness to kick in, which is displayed by a spectacular needle drop, varies depending upon the type of tree. The tree with the strongest sense of denial is the Fraser Fir and with the recent introduction into our area, is matched by the Nordman Fir. You can bring them inside now and be confident, with proper care, they will retain their supple and moisture filled needles until the middle of January and even longer. Balsams can be good for up to 3 weeks and most spruces have their needles hang in there about 2 weeks or so.

Proper care includes making a fresh cut before putting the tree into the receptacle; keeping the receptacle filled with water; and, not setting it near fireplaces, woodstoves or heating vents. Some folks still use lighted candles. These are the people who call away our friends at Station No. One from their Christmas activities.

There are several other considerations for selecting a tree. It has to look good which is a subjective matter at best and, as a chap who helps customers with their purchase, I can tell you that a great deal of time and invited comment is employed. It has to have needles. This seems like a simple statement but there is a lot more to it. For sure, when you look at a tree you will see needles covering the ground just below it. Don’t look at them; look at the needles still on the tree; those are the ones that are important. All the stems and twigs should have needles. You might find the occasional denuded branch on an otherwise good looking tree. If so, look along the branch and see if it is broken. That would be a good thing. If not, then walk away from that tree, there are others. The needles on the tree should be flexible and the have the colour that matches. For example a Colorado blue spruce will have blue needles and that is a good thing. If you see a white pine with blue-grey needles, that is not a good thing. Another consideration, and this for the younger folk so, Gentle Reader, please pass this comment along to them. The bottom part of the tree between the ground and the lowest branches is the critical measurement of a good tree; there must be sufficient room for presents.

A Christmas tree is a good thing to have. Please take care of it properly.

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