Winter Wonderland

Rather than cut down another large Christmas tree, interior designer Marie Bishop is keeping the spirit alive in a whole new way.

It seems that every year we get ready earlier and earlier for the festive season. And why not? We enjoy it, so we like to stretch it out as much as we can. I’m pretty sure on a psychological level it distracts us from thinking of the long winter months ahead – that’s how it is for me anyway. Also, the secret to not getting stressed out about this very busy season is to be ready early, so there’s no last minute panic or pressure.

There are so many wonderful traditions that we honour and celebrate with families and friends during this season, but I like to add in some unconventional festivities. Like the year I celebrated the Wonky Tree. We’ve always had a real tree; I know, very old school, but that’s not about to change. My quest was to find the least perfect tree and let everyone see how perfectly imperfect it was. And it was a hit! In fact, it became a trend among our friends, and for years after they followed the tradition of the Wonky Tree.

Then there was the year I covered everything with blue, white and silver ornaments – that was back in the ’90s, before blue became popular. It was a challenge to even find anything blue, but I persevered.

This year, I’m promoting the Tiny Tree. In fact, I’m creating a small gathering of natural, living, tiny trees. I’ve been talking about replacing the regular eight-foot tree with a small (36” high) tabletop Christmas tree for a few years now, but always got push back from the clan. This year, I’m doing it anyway. No big tree in the centre of the living room window, just a miniature winter wonderland.
I’ve been planning this since August actually, when Mr. B and I carefully scouted a few wooded areas near the house for small, bushy, open grown white spruce and balsam fir. We delicately lifted them from their homes and transplanted them into some fat-bottom pots and other suitable containers. It’s always a gamble when you transplant trees: the secret is to keep as much of the root ball intact as possible, then mimic their original growing conditions. The alternative would be to cut some small, bushy trees and place them in waterproof containers with floral oasis, keeping the water topped up for the season as you would for a regular Christmas tree.

I also trimmed some dead branches from deciduous trees like birch, maple and alder. I chose the ones that looked most like a small version of the big tree, spray painted them white and stored them until needed.

My vision was to create a miniature winter scene with fir, spruce, bare birch, snow, tiny lights, small houses – simple, yet enchanting. The simplicity part became more of a challenge than I expected, however.

Part of the appeal in this type of arrangement is to create different levels for display. In the space where my traditional Christmas tree would normally stand, next to a comfy blue and white chair, I set up my existing black metal tables, glass nesting tables and black metal baker’s rack. I arranged the tiny potted trees on different shelves along with the painted birch branches, to create a forest scene. I have been collecting small houses for a few years now, so I added those along with reindeer, a few Santas and some small artificial trees. I threaded warm white mini lights through the bare branches, the evergreens and the little houses, which gives a really magical look. Then I sprayed the whole works with a light dusting of artificial snow. Yes, it’s a little messy, but it looks fabulous. And you can worry about the cleanup in January.

I initially thought this would be less work than our traditional tree – I’m not really sure how I figured that. Although it’s true we didn’t have to hunt for a tree, wait for the ice and snow to fall off, position it securely in its container and string the lights so the wires didn’t show. And I didn’t unpack all my traditional ornaments – hardly any, actually. So, I guess from that perspective it was less work.
I totally understand why most people go with the prelit artificial tree, by the way, as it’s so much easier. But if you decide to do something a little different and start early, it’s actually quite fun. It might require a little creative muscle, and you have to give yourself lots of time to carry it out. Otherwise frustration takes over, you run out of time and you’re cursing yourself for being so darn creative. That would be a good time to break out the eggnog!

Here’s a little add-on for anyone who has a small shed, gazebo or tea house that they enjoy all year round: why not pour a little Christmas cheer in that direction? I dearly love my little tea house, so instead of putting my woodland creatures and fairies to bed in the basement for the winter, I kept them out a little longer and made the area festive with a few trees, some lights and a cosy blanket. Not only does it brighten up my morning and the backwoods area, it’s become a great Christmas photo booth for the little ones.

Whether you have a tiny tree, a giant tree, an outside tree or no tree at all, this season is really about coming together to embrace all the wonderful things in our lives. It’s a time to enjoy good food, spend time with family and friends, and check in on your neighbours. It’s the very best time to love your space.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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