What features make your perfect Christmas tree?

Duchess of Dirt: Tips for selecting the perfect Christmas tree

Leslie Cox

Special to The Record

As a child growing up in Victoria, nothing said Christmas was coming more than our annual family outing to pick out the perfect Christmas tree.

This was always a day-long affair for our family. Mom would pack up sandwiches, cookies, thermoses of hot chocolate, and Japanese oranges. Depending on the weather, we kids would bundle up in rain gear or thick winter jackets, toques, warm scarves, and mittens. (The last two items were knit by our granny. Who remembers those scarves with the diamond-shaped ends that you slipped one through a slit in the other?)

Dad would put the clip-on roof racks on top of our car (remember those?) and stowed his saw and rope in the trunk. Snow chains were thrown in if the weather warranted their need. Then we all piled into the vehicle – including the dog – and set off for Sooke and the day’s adventure.

What an adventure it would be! All day traipsing through the woods, with proper permit of course, in search of the perfect Christmas tree. And it always took most of the day to find our tree because it just had to be a Scotch pine and 12 feet tall. Nothing else would do.

I always thought my dad’s preference for a Scotch pine tree was a nod to his Scottish heritage. You do not get much more Scottish with a name like Ferguson – and my granny was born in Kilmarnock to boot. Ah, the simplicity of a child’s thought processes!

It actual fact, the Scotch pine rates right near the top of popular Christmas tree species. One survey states the Scotch pine is “the king of Christmas trees.” I have to concur. Its shape is absolutely perfect for decorating with up-curved branches and long needles. It also gets bonus points for good needle retention for almost as long as the tree is up.

For me, seeing all 12 feet of our tree decked out in lights, ornaments, and tinsel from floor to the peek of the living room ceiling in the family home, was always breathtaking as a child.

This is not to say other evergreen tree species are not as worthy, by any means. Balsam fir is deemed the traditional Christmas tree species for its fragrance and slender shape, making it suitable for tight spaces. It also lasts a decent interval over the holiday period.

Douglas fir is one of the top sellers for tree nurseries. With needles radiating the circumference of the branches and a sweet scent, its popularity is assured. But you need space for this one to allow for its full splendour.

Then there are the more silver-coloured tree species; white pine (Pinus strobus), white spruce (Picea glauca), and blue spruce (Picea pungens) … if you wish to coordinate your decoration theme.

White pine has very long, soft, blue-green needles on up-curving branches. You cannot hang heavy ornaments on its branch tips, but needle retention is good. Unfortunately, it does not have that lovely pine scent.

White spruce has a more slender shape for rooms with space restrictions and lovely grey-green needles. This one emits a delightful fragrance throughout the holiday season.

Blue spruce, or Colorado blue spruce as it is also known, has a very symmetrical shape. The lovely blue-grey needles hold quite well over the holidays but whatever you do, don’t crush them! These needles have a disagreeable smell.

These years, John and I forgo the tree, to save a tree and the mess. But truthfully, I love the years when the grandkids come stay for Christmas because John will concede to a tree. Those are the purely magical Christmases, especially when I can select my Scotch pine and hang our family heirloom ornaments. The child lives within.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca and her column appears every second Thursday in the Record.

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