Ornamental Garden: Trimming the Tree, an Air Plant Angel and…Cue the Christmas Cactus!

Photos by Ryan Benoit

Here we are again. It’s that time of year when the air is spiced, the homes (and hearts) grow warmer, and we spend countless hours stalking our friends’ Instagram photos for gift ideas. Yes, the holly-days have arrived!

We spent our Thanksgiving weekend making bourbon mashed yams and pancetta sage stuffing, and trimming the noble fir in our garden. It’s been a couple years since we last got a cut tree. The purchasing of this one only happened after some deliberation, a crisis mode in which we wondered how ethical it is to contribute to the chopping down of millions of trees each year for a few weeks’ decoration. Versus plastic trees that represent their own environmental threat.

After reading about how many (often family-owned) tree farms can act “like natural sponges for atmospheric carbon,” according to MoJo, we picked up our own eight-foot-tall Christmas conifer to display in our yard.

Thanksgiving was over and the Christmas tree was ready.

After deliberating over the whole real versus fake versus planted issue — and learning about carbon-absorbing tree farms — we brought home an eight-foot noble fir.

Ryan will find any excuse to break out the 32-inch crosscut saw (hand-hammered in Germany).

This project may eventually get its own DIY post. Ryan designed a tree stand on wheels, of course, because it wouldn’t be Horticult furniture if it couldn’t change scenes at the drop of a hat.

Once aligned, Ryan tightens the trunk vice.

The rolling frame (gray) clamps down on the trunk vice (brown). We placed the freshly cut trunk in a bowl of water in the center (difficult to see here).

Un-mummifying our tree.

De-mummifying our tree.

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera)

As if on cue, our Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera), which had been tucked away in a shady corner behind a fuchsia, is blooming right now. We JUST noticed this. The flowers are triggered by the shorter days and colder nights.

The tree was grown on McKenzie Farms in Estacada, Oregon. And yes… that’s an air plant doubling as an ornament.

For decorating our tree this year we decided to move all of our air plants from their DIY cage to the tree. (Dress by Reformation. For partying until first light, I recommend their ’70s-rocking, eco-conscious, US-made wares.)

This noble fir (Abies procera) came from McKenzie Farms in Estacada, Oregon. Its needles are soft and sort of plump, and when we cut the cord the branches came down in a fragrant whoosh. We placed it in the tree stand Ryan made especially for the outdoors. The stand has wheels, so we can motor the tree from place to place throughout our yard. The tree’s thick piney scent has completely filled the space outside our kitchen door.

Lighting-wise, we went with large (C6), multicolored and midcentury-inspired. Shocking, right? Instead of big metal baubles, we decided to make this a living tree, so to speak, by taking the tillandsias from our DIY air plant display and placing them throughout our fir. That’s right: we’re using air plants as ornaments. The “star” on top is our jumbo Tillandsia xerographica, which is a whopping 12 inches across.

Our Tillandsia xerographica was the clear choice for the top-of-the-tree angel.

We placed a Tillandsia near each C6 bulb.

We placed an air plant near each C6 bulb.

Considering that air plants are epiphytes that grow naturally on trees, we felt it was kind of fitting. Plus, when we water the tree, we can water the tilliandsias too at the same time!

Meanwhile, our Christmas cactus, which had fallen into neglect on the side of the house, is now in glossy red and pink bloom. This Schlumbergera prefers shadier, high-humidity environments (making it an excellent bathroom houseplant), and flowers when the days get short and cold.

Kind of gives new meaning to the phrase “growing ornamentals.”

—TH

Trimming with Tillandsia

Trimming with Tillandsia

Trimming with Tillandsia

Trimming with Tillandsia

Trimming with Tillandsia

Trimming with Tillandsia

Trimming with Tillandsia

 

 

 

  • It is cloudy and 30*F in my Ohio garden and I’m keeping warm by the beautiful images you shared on your site. I can smell the marshmallow roasting on the fire pit in your patio living space and the fresh evergreen scent coming from the beautiful tree just decorated! #LOVE and thank you for inspiring me today.

    • Bren, we’re sending warm vibes to you across miles and miles! Thank you for your kind words. Also, we’re loving (and kind of living vicariously through) your winter greenhouse photos!

  • Tommy Ogren

    Good looking tree stand, Great lookin’ Christmas tree…..as always, this site is full of cool ideas and loads of class!

    • You help us class up the joint even more, Tommy! Glad you’re enjoying the recent stories — and please keep us posted on what you’re up to…

  • Sandra Knauf

    What a wonderful post and an original, creative approach! I loved it. Holiday cheer and love to you both.

    • Thank you, Sandra! It’s been liberating taking this new approach and sharing it with our friends. Holiday cheer and love right back at you!