The Annual Christmas Tree Rant

Alright, If you have been reading here for at least a year, perhaps you are already expecting this post.  Yes, it is the I’m so annoyed at the the Christmas Tree Market, and I am going to Extrapolate that into a Bigger Statement about Design post. Here goes.

holiday decor 2010

Starting with the positive, I got my beautiful Christmas tree this year from a place that couldn’t have made me happier if they had wrapped the thing in a big giant velvet bow, brought it to my house and set it up for me.  But really, all they did was plant a pretty little field full of fir trees out in central Massachusetts some years ago.  And then, because they are farmers and parents they became completely distracted, they forgot about them.   The trees were left to the mercy of the wild and were allowed to grow and mature just like mother nature intended.

There was no bulldozing of mountains sides, no pesticide spraying, and no labor intensive shearing.  While I have a pretty big beef with all of these, I can also recognize that tree farming has a lot of environmental benefits as well.  Tree farms, like any other agricultural product need to be approached with the same greater understanding of the environmental practices that they employ.  We are increasingly applying this logic to our food products and trees are no different.  Tree farming is a debate that certainly has two strong sides to it and lots of gray area in between, but my strategy is to buy as locally as I can, and know as much about what I am buying as possible — then use may brain to make the right choice.

(my 2010 holiday tree– it has all of, perhaps, 10 branches to hang things on — but is beautiful nonetheless)

But my rant for today is different….I have come to hate tree lots because there isn’t any point to the shopping anymore.  I remember when I was a kid going to a tree lot at the holidays was like a mini lesson in Dendrology.  Trees looked different from each other and there was a point to examining each one, different varieties different shapes, sizes and styles.  None were so perfect that you didn’t have to take the time to be charmed by the beautiful eccentricities of it.  Walking the lot and pulling out a tree, spinning it around and examining it from all sides had a purpose.  Now, I hardly feel kind when I ask for a tree to be unfurled for examination — what is the point? I am just wasting everyone’s time trying to find the perfect tree. They are all ‘perfect’. Each has been pruned and honed and hyper-cultivated to look exactly like the one next to it.  Oh sure, perhaps one will be a little taller, or a little fatter, and we can boringly discuss needle retention, but they all look the same.  And that makes me sad and a little mad.

holiday decorations

I find it to be a particularly American habit to strive for sameness.  My mother used to comment on the profound cultural difference she noticed between Europeans and Americans when she would visit me when I lived in the UK.  ‘Everyone here seems to want to look different and unique, but back home, they all want to look the same.’  I have to agree, when you look at the average (and thank goodness there are lots of people that are not on the bell curve), this is certainly true.  All across the country the same stores are in the mall, the same restaurants are in the parking lots and now for the holidays, the same trees are in the tree lots.  Ubiquity reigns.  Bleh.

So here ends my annual Christmas tree rant.  I encourage you to save yourself from holiday sameness.  Please, seize this once a year opportunity to express your self however you want (design with abandon!!).  Who cares if your tree matches your pottery barn sofa – it’s only a few weeks.  Seek alternatives.  Demand a flocked tree, a charlie brown tree, a bare stemmed deciduous tree with nice branches, maybe even a hot pink tinsel tree.  At the very least, if you go for real, a local tree that grew naturally in the place it was born.  Bring it into your home and celebrate it and all its natural beauty.

Then decorate it with abandon, give yourself the liberty to make the tree and it’s decoration a unique expression of you.  Let yourself go and enjoy the creativity.  This year, I decided for the first time, to not take all the ornaments that have been given to me over the years out of the attic.  I neither purchased or choose any of them for myself and while the sentimental ties to the givers of these baubles is strong, I don’t necessarily love them visually.  I have been yearning for an opportunity to create my own thing.  So instead, I shopped at the dollar store, Ikea, Target, TJMaxx and the woods around my house for cheap decorations and materials to make our own look.  This is what I came up with so far… more to come as I finish up.

If you are looking for some inspiration, check out some of the Studio ‘g’ tree posts from years past….. What’s a Girl Gotta Do To Get a Flocked Tree in New England?, and Save a Tree, Last minute Christmas Tree Alternatives.

Happy Holidays!

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rochelle greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.
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12 Comments

  1. Liza on December 9, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    Were we separated at birth?

    • rochelle on December 9, 2010 at 7:20 pm

      I don’t know Liza –I was born in AZ, where were you born? 😉

  2. Justin on December 9, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    I think this is directly connected to your recent post regarding wabi-sabi…

    You can’t have perfect without imperfect. I love your tree, it reminds me of the trees we harvest from my in-laws woods most years.

    • rochelle on December 10, 2010 at 8:37 am

      hmmm….Justin….you have just given me something to think about….;)

  3. Loree / danger garden on December 9, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    This is the first year I’ve been lucky enough you read your Christmas rant but I just might have to go back and find the prior years and read those too.

    It has been many years since I’ve purchased a tree at Christmas time. I was given a vintage aluminum tree 8 years ago and it became my go-to tree. Until last year when I used a Dicksonia antarctica (it was all about rationalizing spending $45 on a plant at Christmas time, it seemed better if it was our Christmas tree too). And this year I’ve decided to use sticks picked up in the park (pictures on my blog tomorrow). I am luckily that my husband enjoys the tree stand-ins and isn’t one of those that needs to have the same tree as everyone else!

    Finally, I had noticed as I drove by the tree lots that they all looked perfect. No tall skinny trees just the perfect conical shape…full and fluffy. I remembered going into the woods to select the family tree when I was a kid and the heartfelt discussions we had over which one was “the one”…hard to get that experience when they all look the same.

  4. Sprout on December 10, 2010 at 12:57 am

    If I can only do one thing that says Christmas, it’s cut down a tree.

    That said, I wanted a tree that was 8-9 feet tall, good looking on the top 5-6 feet, bare at the bottom 3 feet, and not too bushy. Constraints of the urban apartment.

    We spent a lot of time looking for a tree with an ugly bottom third so we could take advantage of something that most wouldn’t find perfect, but would be perfect enough for us!

  5. Les on December 10, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    I sell Christmas trees at the garden center where I work. We only sell Fraser Firs, and like you said they are as near to perfect as possible. We get them from a family business in the mountains of North Carolina, a part of the country that historically was in serious need of extra revenue. Frasers are in a downward spiral in their native haibtat (the highest peaks of the southern Appalachians) due to a warming climate, acid rain and balsam woolly adelgids. So perhaps the only way the tree will survive is on environmentally artificial tree farms. Before I worked in the business I always got an Eastern Red Cedar, which was the tree of choice here historically, but they are hell on the skin when decorating. I am no apologist for the Christmas tree industry, but they are so much “greener” then the non–recyclable plastic ones made overseas. For me it’s either real or none.

  6. Fern @ Life on the Balcony on December 11, 2010 at 2:02 am

    I never knew that all the trees on Christmas tree lots are the same nowadays (I’m Jewish). It fascinates me that there are whole parts of American culture than I am completely oblivious to because I’m not Christian. I do agree that the whole “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality has gone too far. Maybe Europeans have more desire to be unique because as a society, they are much more homogenous. Americans, on the other hand, all have different backgrounds, so maybe we feel a string desire to coalesce as a group, or otherwise prove that we “belong.”

  7. Molly on December 11, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    I am so glad you love the tree!! I would never ever put one of those hideous fat trees in my house either. We also decided to not get ANY Christmas decorations down from the attic. What a joyful relief to not have to set up, and more importantly put away the mess! My daughter and I are having a blast making snowflakes, snowman, and skeletons (my 3 year old’s favorite thing) to hang on the tree. Cheers!

  8. Laurie Brown on December 11, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    We (in the years we put a tree up) stomp into the woods and cut one down, one that is too close to other trees and should be taken out so the other can grow better. Bonus points if it’s flat on one side naturally, so it can go up against something nice and tight.

    One year someone gave us a farm tree. I honestly didn’t know what to do with it! The branches were so tight together I had a hard time getting ornaments on them- there was certainly no reaching way in and hanging stuff right by the trunk like we can with our sad looking home harvest trees. The ornaments ended up sort of hanging *against* the outside of the tree instead of in the tree. Weird. I do have to admit that the tinsel garlands looked very nice on it.

  9. Scott Hokunson on December 13, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Amen, Vive la différence!

  10. MamaHolt on December 20, 2010 at 10:09 am

    YES! YES! YES! When I was growing up, my Daddy would tromp out into the woods with a belly full of beer and an axe in hand and chop something down. Then we all started to get environmentally conscious and got a fake one. THEN, just a couple of years ago, I got this…
    http://www.wabi-sabihomeandgarden.com/2009/12/metal-tree.html. I. looooooove it. LOVE it. I do miss the smell, but I found some yummy pine incense that does the trick. Onward!

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