“Every tree is special to its family – it’s like a child,” says Sam Lyle, who runs Pines and Needles with his brother Josh. As self-professed Christmas tree specialists, they’ve been flogging firs since they were teenagers, initially hawking their wares outside a dry cleaners.
But the Lyle brothers are no Del Boy and Rodney – if the name hasn’t rung a bell already, Sam and Josh are the grandsons of sugar magnate Abram Lyle, as in Tate & Lyle.
With a back catalogue of business brains in the family, it’s perhaps no surprise that Pines and Needles has become the nation’s go-to Christmas tree supplier, with their Scottish grown Nordmann Firs standing tall in Downing Street and the National Gallery, as well as Wembley Stadium and the Natural History Museum.
Madonna and Claudia Winkleman count themselves as customers, and Harry and Meghan picked up a strapping six footer from their shop in Battersea. “They picked a lovely, full, bushy tree,” says Sam, whose website traffic doubled over night after the visit. Unfortunately, Heghan haven’t been back. “We probably publicised it too much – I think we put them off!” says Sam, wistfully waving goodbye to the prospect of a Royal Warranty.
Having put up his own tree on the last day of November, Sam advocates an early start. “Put it up this week, because then you’ll have it for longer. As long as you look after it, it’ll last until January.”
Here are Sam’s tips for making the most of your tree…
Some like it hot (but your tree doesn’t)
Avoid over-heating the tree by keeping it away from radiators and fireplaces. If it is set up by a radiator, turn that radiator off if possible, and avoid using fan heaters, and fan air conditioning, as these will dry out the tree.
H2O is the way to go
Christmas trees need a lot of water, so keep it in a water holding stand and have a look at it every few days, to see if it needs topping up. The presents stacked around the tree should mean that any dogs will steer clear of using the stand as a water bowl, but if in doubt, buy more presents as a barricade!
At its widest, a tree’s circumference will usually be just less than half its height, so a 6ft tree will have a girth of around 2.9ft. There is some variation, so choose your tree in person if you want a thinner one – or if your tree is destined for a corner, cut back the branches on the side of the tree that won’t be seen. It’ll look like a big, full, tree, but it will take up less space.
Take it from the top
Put the lights on first, starting from the top of the tree, because if you’ve got too many you can hide them at the bottom, at the back – and if you find you’ve got too few, it’s easier to add more at the bottom. Place the baubles next. Tinsel’s not for everyone, but if you’re using it, put it on last. Tinsel dominates the eye, so be careful to keep it balanced and parallel.
Keep it real
The difference between a real tree and an artificial tree is like the contrast between fresh and fake flowers. But aesthetics aside, a real tree is better for the environment, because as it grows, it captures carbon, and after Christmas it can be recycled. Most artificial trees get sent to land waste, because people don’t want to store them all year round. So unless you’re going to keep an artificial tree for a decade or more, a real tree is better for the environment – and the economy.
Go for no-drop needles
If your lasting memory of a real tree is needles all over the floor, give it another go – because although you can’t avoid a few needles falling off, the type of tree will make a massive difference. Traditionally, the Norway Spruce was used for Christmas trees, but as they dry out, they drop all their needles, so by Christmas you can be left with bare branches. Now, over 90 per cent of Christmas trees sold are Nordmann Firs, which have very good needle retention. As they dry out, they go a lighter shade of green, but the needles stay on the tree.
Each to their own
Decorating the Christmas tree is a great way for everyone to make a personal statement. If you’re into ordered, perfect symmetry, go for it, and if you want to display creative flair and odd bits, go for that too! Every tree can evoke creativity and nostalgia, and nice warm feelings, so do whatever floats your boat. And while decorations hung by the children are a beauty to behold in their own way, don’t feel bad about delicately rearranging them…
Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here