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Gardening and Christmas: a marriage made in heaven!
Where would we be without the humble Christmas tree? You don't need to be a gardener or even a garden-lover to be able to appreciate the sight of a twinkling, festive tree. It's one of the symbols of Christmas that most of us love to see. But why a tree at Christmas? It seems that tree decorating is a pagan tradition that pre-dates Christianity. Trees were worshipped throughout the year because they were so useful for firewood, shelter and construction. And during the long, dark days of winter they became even more precious. The evergreen tree, in particular, was loved for providing green cheer during otherwise colourless periods. Pagans often brought sprigs into their homes. They would decorate them using apples, nuts, coloured paper, ribbons and other brightly coloured baubles. Many people believed that trees possessed magical powers which were linked to the harvest. It was hoped that tree decorating and worshipping would help to ensure the success of next year's harvest.
The custom of tree worshipping occurred around the globe. A tree also symbolises eternal life. It was particularly evident within Ancient Egypt and China and was also common practice in Scandinavia. Houses and barns were decorated with evergreens at New Year to scare away the devil.
In Britain it is said that Queen Charlotte, German wife of George III decorated the first formally- recorded Christmas tree at Queen's Lodge, Windsor, in 1800. But Martin Luther, religious reformer was also credited as being the inventor of the Christmas tree back in 1536. It is said that he walked through a pine forest at night and saw thousands of stars glinting through the dark branches. The wondrous sight led him to put candles on his own tree. He told stories of starry heavens that gave rise to the Saviour.
The tallest Christmas tree in the UK is said to be at Wakehurst Place in Sussex where 1800 lights have been painstakingly draped around the 33m tall giant redwood. It can be seen by planes approaching Gatwick Airport! But householders don't need to squeeze such large specimens into their homes. There are many different types of conifer which are equally suitable for use as a festive decoration. Pine; spruce; fir; cedars and cypress they will all lend themselves to dressing up.
Living gifts at Christmas
We are entering the season of giving and a living gift is an ideal way to ensure that the pleasure continues for many years to come. Allow nature to do its magical thing and make your present grow bigger and better as time passes! There are trees, shrubs, growing kits and evergreens looking resplendent. Also house plants that not only look good but clean the air too.
What can you give? For those with a small garden, cherry tree Prunus Little Pink Perfection could be perfect because it reaches just 2m in height. It can even be grown in a pot and its diminutive size doesn't prevent a stunning display of spring blossom.
Those preferring red berries that attract the birds might love Cotoneaster 'Cornubia' which also has subtle June flowers. It is semi-evergreen and grows to a height of around 4m. Or if your recipient might like something with amazing bark, try Prunus serrula, the Tibetan cherry with its mahogany-coloured trunk. Then there's cornus with its brilliantly coloured stems too.
A gift of a planting kit will suit fireside gardeners. Tulips; hyacinths; daffodils, crocus and amaryllis can be planted in pots and kept on the windowsill. They will herald the spring and push their eager flower buds up sooner than you can ever imagine. What a wonderful present the gift of nature!
Think these are somewhat predictable? Look at unusual houseplants that have a quirky name, habit or story! How about Lucky Bamboo, for example, that is said to aid positive Feng Shui? Or the money plant, Crassula that even has a trailing variety known as Hottentot? There are bonsai trees that will make the recipient feel like a giant; healing plants such as aloe vera and even insect-eating carnivorous plants too! Some houseplants have cleverly-worked lattice stems, some have giant prickles and others enjoy giggly names such as 'Fun Bun'.
But for the ultimate, tiny gift for someone who loves Christmas, look for a Cactus Santa. He's all dressed up with somewhere to go.