Gardening: Pine scent on the air

By Meg Liptrot

For Meg Liptrot, it's the woodsy fragrance of Christmas that sets the festive mood.

Even a potted palm, suitably decorated, can evoke Christmas spirit if you tuck a few sweet-scented pine cones into its pot. Photo / Meg Liptrot
Even a potted palm, suitably decorated, can evoke Christmas spirit if you tuck a few sweet-scented pine cones into its pot. Photo / Meg Liptrot

These days, I'm a little nonplussed about Christmas; it is just so commercial and, frankly, the advertising is tiresome. That is, until the scent of pine is in the house, then it's all on. A hint of that good old childhood excitement stirs, and I feel like Christmas Eve carols, then presents, holidays and fun.

In years when I've resisted the carpark Christmas-tree hawkers, it hasn't quite felt like Christmas. I'm afraid it's the scent of fresh-cut pine that does it for me.

There are eco-alternatives to buying a cut pine tree, such as potted Christmas trees - usually small pines or cypresses. I bought a prickly cypress in a pot when I was flatting, thinking the tree could be planted out a couple of years later. I didn't have much luck keeping the poor tree alive beyond a couple of years, and it suffered the same sad fate as most other Christmas trees. Also, I don't think the landlord would have been too pleased with a large cypress growing in his backyard.

If you do have space to plant a small pine, then go for it.

We have a wilding pine growing at the Sustainable Living Centre, which I pruned into a Christmassy shape. We give it tinsel-treatment for the benefit of passersby but, eventually, it will have to be cut down.

In the US they've come up with the clever idea of renting Christmas trees. One company in Oregon has "elves" delivering them, which I think is a stroke of genius. After Christmas, the trees are picked up, planted in a reforestation scheme, in this case in areas affected by forest fire. It wouldn't work so well here, though. I don't think forestry companies would be keen on planting Christmas trees alongside their manicured timber, although it would be a good PR exercise.

My parents recently invested in a gorgeous, hassle-free artificial tree, and I decorated our large potted palm in Christmas fashion last year.

But how do you recreate that pine tree smell if you want to avoid cutting down a tree? How about trimming shoots from a wilding pine tree (often seen along coastlines or on waste land), then wind the foliage in a loose wreath around the base of your artificial tree, or at your front door. Or set up a large vase with pine foliage as a backing to the flowers. Alternatively, go hunting pine cones and put some in a basket by a sunny window, so pine fragrance will permeate the air.

If you did buy a cut tree, some companies will pick it up for a small charge, so it can be turned into mulch. I once stripped the pine-needles off our old tree and sprinkled them around the floor of our dog kennel as a doggie deodoriser. You could also use the needles as mulch around your strawberry patch, then chop up the remains of the trunk for next winter's firewood.

A South Pacific Christmas

* Aotearoa has a Christmas tree that comes with its own red tinsel - the pohutukawa. These hardy trees cope with being in large pots for several years, and smaller cultivars can be purchased to pot to use as your Christmas tree each year.

* Alternatively, sponsor a pohutukawa tree with Project Crimson to see more of this native along our coastlines.

* Bring a large pot plant inside. It doesn't matter what plant it is, once it's decorated it will look like Christmas and provide a nice focal point for the prezzies.

* At Christmas dinner decorate your table with pohutukawa flowers (not from a public place) or use other scented foliage such as our native tarata (lemonwood). Horopito and red matipo (sacred to Maori) both have red in their foliage too.

* Flax flowers and foliage or toetoe in a large vase will make a statement next to a seafood-and-salad Christmas lunch, kiwi-style.

- Herald on Sunday

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