Real Estate

A Fresh Look

Alternative Christmas trees

by Kit Davey

Is your home too small for a bushy Christmas tree? Do you object to cutting down a perfectly healthy tree? Well, "Ho, ho, ho!" If you want an inexpensive, environmentally friendly Yule tree, try one of these alternatives.

One year, while I was an impoverished student, I dragged in a downed tree branch that had fallen across the road during a storm. I placed it in a bucket with a bit of water and propped up the base of the branch with large stones. A string of lights and a few homemade ornaments made my Charlie Brown Christmas tree glow with cheer.

For several years I transformed a healthy ficus into a holiday focal point. I moved my houseplant to a position of honor, draped a red tablecloth around its base, tied red ribbons on its branches and hung it with lightweight paper and straw ornaments.

Several years ago I purchased a 3-foot-tall ivy pine tree-shaped topiary at a local nursery and placed it in a clay pot, which I spray-painted in gold. I brought it indoors during Thanksgiving weekend and returned it to my garden before New Year's Day. It pleased me to know I'm sparing the life of a pine tree and that my $25 investment saved me many hours and dollars over the years. Check out your local nursery for a rosemary or ivy "tree."

My parents don't enjoy chopping down trees, and so they substituted a large potted evergreen in hopes it could be planted in the yard at the end of the holidays. After watching the slow demise of several of these transplanted trees over the years, my folks gave up on this idea. But if you have a green thumb and understand how to care for these trees, I highly recommend going this route.

My ever-inventive dad came up with a great solution that allows him to display his varied ornament collection as well as save trees' lives. He designed and built a tree-like shape out of wood dowels. He cut dowels of various lengths and drilled holes into a central pole, and inserted the "branches." These arms are parallel to the ground so that the ornaments don't slide towards the "trunk." The tree is easy to assemble and when stored, takes up little space.

Several catalog companies make variations of my dad's invention. The tree could be placed on top of a piano or on a skirted table. One of the nice things about this sort of tree is that it has flexible limbs that can be folded up against the trunk for compact storage.

A naked topiary form can also stand in as a prop for lights and ornaments. This year I am using a tomato cage, which I have turned over. I gathered the three prongs into a point with a rubber band and made a little cone with a star on top to hide the cage's prongs. I spray-painted mine chartreuse, but you could spray-paint it gold, red or green if you want to get fancy. The form can later be moved out into the yard.

A friend of mine who moved from Palo Alto to a small condo in Honolulu uses a surfboard as her "tree." She leans it up against the wall, wraps it with strings of lights and hangs ornaments from the wire.

Kit Davey is a Redwood City interior designer who redecorates using what you already own. Email her at, call her at 650-367-7370 or visit her website at A Fresh Look.

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