Annie, Celebrations And Holidays, Christmas, Trees

christmas tree story

Winter is coming and the first signs of Christmas are beginning to appear. Christmas adverts are back on TV, shops are hanging up their decorations and blaring festive music as people buy gifts for their loved ones. As Christmas draws ever closer people will start to decorate their homes with one of the most recognisable symbols of this festive period, the Christmas tree. The tree in its current form has become such an integral part of the yuletide tradition that it is hard to believe that it hasn’t always been this way. In fact, the Christmas tree as we know it only really became popular in the Victorian era. However, throughout history evergreen plants have played an important role in winter festivals and as cultures and traditions have changed, so has the role of the Christmas tree.

Winter Solstice

christmas tree

The Christmas tree is something that we associate with Christianity. However, long before this religion emerged evergreen plants played an important role in ancient traditions. In many cultures, people would hang up evergreen boughs to keep away illness, evil spirits, ghosts and witches. Evergreen foliage was particularly significant as the winter solstice approached. Many different cultures believed that there was a sun god who would become ill every year and when he did winter would arrive. Once the sun god recovered from his illness and became stronger summer would return. The winter solstice on the 21st or 22nd December marked the beginning of that recovery. People would fill their homes with evergreen plants to remind them that life would triumph over death and things would begin to grow again.

The ancient Egyptians certainly believed this. They worshipped a sun god that they called Ra and would bring palm rushes into their homes at the solstice to celebrate life beating death. The Egyptians weren’t the only ancient people to do this. In fact, the Druids would decorate their temples with evergreen boughs to symbolise everlasting life. The Vikings also believed in a sun god, who they called Balder, and thought that evergreens were special to him. So even though these evergreen boughs are not the Christmas trees that we recognise today, the tradition of using greenery to celebrate during winter festivals is one that has endured.

The Early Christmas Tree

early christmas tree

It wasn’t until the 16th century that the Christmas tree as we know it started to come into fashion. It is believed that this tradition began in Germany. Many devout Christians would bring a fir tree into their home on the 24th December, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve, and would decorate it. This tree was known as the ‘paradise tree’ and symbolised the Garden of Eden. The tree had originally been a prop in a medieval play about Adam and Eve and was decorated with apples. However, many Germans began to set up paradise trees in their homes and would decorate them with wafers (to represent the Eucharistic host) as well. Eventually, the wafers were replaced with biscuits of many shapes and sizes and candles would be placed on the tree as well.

At the same time that ‘paradise’ trees were appearing in German homes, wooden Christmas pyramids were also gaining popularity. These wooden pyramids would be decorated with evergreen foliage, Christmas figurines, candles and would also have a star. At some point during the 16th century, these two traditions merged and became the Christmas tree. However, this tradition was only really popular among Lutherans in Germany. It wasn’t until the 19th century that it became a widespread custom throughout Germany and in other countries.

A Very Victorian Christmas

candle in tree

In Britain, the Christmas tree only started to become a tradition during the mid 19th century. Queen Victoria was married to Prince Albert, who was German, and she also had a German mother. As a result, the Royal Family did follow the German custom of bringing a tree inside on Christmas Eve and decorating it. Some even said that rather than having a servant decorate the tree Victoria and Albert would do it themselves. However, this custom did not gain widespread popularity in Britain until 1846, when a sketch of Queen Victoria and her family standing around a Christmas tree appeared in Illustrated London News. As a result of the image, Christmas trees grew in popularity and having one became very fashionable. Victorian trees were often heavily decorated and would feature toys, candles, cakes, sweets, small gifts and even strings of popcorn hung from the branches by paper chains or ribbons.

Christmas Trees Around The World

decorated tree

It was also during this period that the Christmas tree gained popularity in other areas of the world. In North America, Christmas trees had been introduced by German settlers as early as the 17th century. However, it was only during the 1800s it became a tradition and by 1870 many people in Britain and North America would decorate their tree using blown glass ornaments. In Europe during the 19th-century trees also became fashionable in Poland, Austria, Switzerland and even the Netherlands. In Japan and China, Christmas trees had been introduced by missionaries and were adorned with paper decorations. By the turn of the 20th-century Christmas trees had become a recognisable Christmas tradition with many different countries adopting it.

Christmas Trees Today

Nowadays, Christmas would not be the same for a lot of people if they did not have a tree. They have become a huge part of the Christmas tradition and have become one of the most recognisable symbols of Christmas. Christmas trees can be found throughout the world from Japan to Australia. While the tree in its current form was originally a very Christian tradition, they have since been adopted by many different cultures and faiths. They are still a key part in winter celebrations and their beauty brings much joy and happiness to people throughout the world.

presents under tree

Annie CorcoranAnnie works for the Primrose product loading team mainly creating web pages and writing product descriptions. When not at her desk you can find her writing for The Independent, re-reading Harry Potter or out for a walk.

See all of Annie’s posts.

Animals, Annie, How To, Wildlife

At this time of year when the weather becomes colder and the long summer days finally give way to the long winter nights we find ourselves starting to prepare for this change. Whether it be by wrapping up warm, popping on the heating or spending more time indoors we need and crave a warm, cosy atmosphere. While the majority of our preparation is for our comfort, for some of our wildlife being well prepared is a matter of survival and this is most definitely the case for one of our most popular garden companions the hedgehog.

Hedgehogs are an integral part of British wildlife and are an excellent friend to gardeners. As they are nocturnal you may not have noticed them scurrying around in your garden helping to eat the slugs, snails and insects that damage the plants you have carefully grown. However, our favourite helpful, spiky mammals are sadly in decline. During the 1950s there were supposedly over 30 million hedgehogs in the UK. Sadly that number has now reduced dramatically to less than a million. A number of factors have contributed to this sharp drop from new buildings and roads intruding on hedgehogs habitats to climate change disrupting natural hibernation times. Nevertheless, all is not lost! There are a number of things that you can do to help prepare your small friends for winter and hopefully help stop this trend.

A Hedgehog Friendly Garden

Creating a hedgehog friendly garden is simple to do and will help to protect hedgehogs over the long winter months. Hedgehogs are attracted to gardens which have lots of nooks and crannies that they can hide and nest in. Some of their favourite places include the base of a hedgerow, under a shed and in dense undergrowth. Not only do these areas provide shelter but they are often teeming with invertebrates for hedgehogs to feast upon. If you would like to encourage a hedgehog to nest in your garden you will find that it helps to keep part of your garden wild.

Hedgehogs also like to be able to move around freely. During their nighttime wanderings when they are out looking for mates, food and nesting areas they can travel as far as 2km! In the build up to winter it is particularly important that hedgehogs find enough to eat so that they can survive hibernation. So if it is possible (and your neighbours have agreed) it is a good idea to create a little hedgehog hole in your fence (or dig a channel underneath) so that they can roam happily between your gardens.

If you are trying to attract a hedgehog to your garden you need to make sure that it is a safe space for them. With the hedgehog population in decline it is important to ensure that potential dangers are kept to a minimum. Chemicals used in the garden, especially ones found in slug pellets, can seriously harm hedgehogs so it is best to avoid them. Hedgehogs eat slugs so should be a great pest controller anyway, but if there are still too many slugs try using beer to get rid of the pests or place obstacles around your plants. Ponds can also prove to be a problem. Hedgehogs often like to drink from ponds and can fall in. Even though they can swim it is important that they can exit the pond quickly otherwise it can prove dangerous. One thing you can do to help them is place a brick at the side of the pond to act as a step so that they can find their way out. Finally, it is important to check bonfires, grass cuttings, compost heaps and rubbish bags before disturbing them. You might find a hedgehog has decided to use it as a nest and has set up home!

Feeding Your Hedgehog

As winter approaches hedgehogs are starting to prepare for hibernation. Typically hedgehogs will hibernate between October and March and need to rely on their fat stores to keep them alive until spring. However, there are many reasons why a hedgehog may not have put on enough weight. For example, bad weather can affect their food supply. Some young hedgehogs might not have been alive long enough to have put on enough weight. So as hibernation season approaches it can’t hurt to give the hedgehogs a helping hand when it come to feeding. You can leave a variety of things in the garden for hedgehogs to munch on including meaty cat and dog food (no fish flavours), sunflower seeds, nuts and kitten biscuits. You can also find special hedgehog food in the shops and a bowl of water is always well recieved. However, you should never feed a hedgehog bread or milk as they can’t digest it.

A Home Fit for Mrs Tiggy-Winkle

If you are lucky enough to have a hedgehog living in your garden one important thing that you can do is provide them with their very own hedgehog home! Hedgehogs tend to go house hunting during the autumn months when preparing for hibernation so the earlier you place your hedgehog home in your garden the more likely it is that you will acquire a new neighbour. We have a few wonderful purpose built Hogitats which can be placed in the garden and are ready for new occupants to move into straight away. Or if you are feeling adventurous and fancy a DIY challenge you can easily create your own Hedgehog home fit for Mrs Tiggy-Winkle herself!

There are a few things that need to be taken into consideration if you decide you wish to make your own custom built hedgehog palace. You will need to build a home that has a large compartment which provides protection from both the cold and the heat. You should also make sure that there is an entrance tunnel leading to this main section. This will stop predators such as badgers, dogs, foxes and cats from being able to reach in and grab the hedgehogs with their paws. You should also ensure that there you have placed material inside that hedgehogs can use to build their nests such as dry leaves, grass and newspaper. Hedgehogs like to build large nests and will appreciate having materials in the home to help get them started.

When you have finished building your house you also need to think about where you will place it in your garden. Just like human house-hunters, for hedgehogs location is everything! You should place the house in a quiet spot and cover it with vegetation. For a step by step guide on how to build and maintain a hedgehog home both the RSPB and The Wildlife Trust provide excellent instructions to help you build a house that any hedgehog would be happy to call home.  

Image: Boyana.kjfg/Sleeping beauty of a Hedgehog.jpg/CC BY 4.0

Let Sleeping Hedgehogs Lie

If you have a hedgehog family living in your garden it is important that during the winter you leave your hibernating hedgehog alone. If you have a hedgehog house make sure you are not frequently checking it to see if there are any occupants. Accidents do happen and if you do wake a sleeping hedgehog don’t panic! If it is an adult hedgehog you can leave out some food and water and it will hopefully settle back down to hibernate again.

However, if you do see hedgehogs out and about in the daytime during the winter they may need some help. In that case you should carefully pick up the injured animal using gardening gloves to protect your hands and bring them inside. You should make sure you don’t handle the hedgehog for too long and should place it in a cardboard box lined with a towel so that the hedgehog can hide. The box should be kept in a quiet place and you should place a warm, wrapped hot water bottle in the box so that the hedgehog has a heat source. You should offer the hedgehog food and water, make sure they are settled and then call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for advice on what to do next.

Hedgehogs are an excellent friend to gardeners and are an important part of British wildlife. It is easy to make your garden a safe haven for our prickly friends and one that they choose to spend time in. By following our advice, you can help preserve these wonderful creatures and give them a helping hand during the harsh winter months – ready for their next adventure in spring.

Annie CorcoranAnnie works for the Primrose product loading team mainly creating web pages and writing product descriptions. When not at her desk you can find her writing for The Independent, re-reading Harry Potter or out for a walk.

See all of Annie’s posts.

Annie, Trees

tree folklore

Throughout history, stories and the power of storytelling have endured. Tales of daring bravery, magic, romance and morality have been key in preserving cultural traditions and their importance cannot be underestimated. Folkloric tales are a fantastic historical resource. These oral histories help to explain the attitudes, beliefs and origins of a society as well as furthering understanding and capturing your imagination. When we think of traditional stories we think of the people at the centre of the tale and little else. But did you know that trees have played an important part in this folklore tradition? Without possibly even knowing it you might find that the trees in your garden, from the rowan to the oak, have a rich history and story to tell.

Rowan Tree

rowan berries
Rowan trees have a long history of magical properties and frequently appear in many different cultures’ mythology including both Ancient Greece and Britain. They are particularly prominent in Norse mythology where it was said that the first woman was made from the rowan tree.They also played an important role in saving the life of the Norse God Thor. The story goes that Thor was in danger of being swept away along a fast flowing river in the underworld. On the shore there was a rowan tree that saw he needed help. The tree bent over allowing Thor to grab onto the branches and pull himself back to safety.

This theme of protection is also found in British folklore as rowan trees were said to protect against witchcraft and enchantment. One of the reasons for this could be due to the bright red berries that the tree produces in autumn. The colour red was seen as the best colour for protection against magic. It also was said to protect any dwelling that it grew by and people would carry parts of the tree as protection from enchantment as well as being used to protect cows and dairy produce.

Flowering Cherry Tree

flowering cherry tree
Trees don’t just have a rich history in western culture, they are an important part of mythology worldwide and the cherry blossom tree is just one example. These incredibly popular ornamental trees are known for their beauty and grown for their flowers rather than their fruit. Most of the varieties of this tree originated in Japan where they have held an important place in Japanese culture for hundreds of years. In fact the cherry blossom tree, which is known as sakura in Japan, is the country’s national flower. They represent the wonderful but fleeting nature of life, symbolising birth and death as well as beauty and violence. So it comes as no surprise to learn that they have come to characterise the samurai (military nobility) in Japanese culture.

Their beauty is so admired that in Japan there is even a custom called ‘hanami’ (flower viewing) where people will gather to look at the cherry blossom trees when they are in bloom. Originally it was said to be a custom introduced by the Emperor and members of the Imperial Palace but has since become popular tradition in wider Japanese society. People will gather for a party or picnic under the trees and admire the wonderful flowers and their colours.

Willow Tree

willow tree
The willow tree is another very popular tree with a rich but contradictory folklore history. In several cultures it is famed for its connection to the underworld. One example of this is how it was represented in Greek mythology. The tree was sacred to the goddesses of the underworld, Persephone, Hecate, Circe and Hera. It also had these links in Celtic mythology as it was connected to the death goddesses representing dark elements of the psyche that challenge wisdom and strength.

However, despite its association with death the willow tree was known and used for medicinal and healing purposes as well as its ability to ward off evil. It was believed that the flower from the willow helped people to get rid of their bitterness and stopped them from blaming others for their problems. The leaves of the willow tree were also used to help ward off jealousy and people would wear them as charms. Finally the wood from a willow tree was used to protect people’s homes from evil.

Hawthorn Tree

hawthorn tree
(CC BY-SA 2.0) Robin Somes

Finally, the hawthorn is another tree with very close links to magic. In fact it is the tree that is most likely to be inhabited and protected by the wee folk. Thomas the Rhymer who was a famous 13th century Scottish poet and mystic was said to have met the Faery Queen by a hawthorn bush from which a cuckoo was calling. The Faery Queen took him down to the Faery underworld for a brief visit. However, when Thomas emerged 7 years had passed in the mortal world. In fact the hawthorn tree was so closely linked to Faeries and magic that it was said that cutting one down would anger them greatly and often there would be fatal consequences.

Hawthorns have also had different meanings. In Britain there was a belief that if you brought hawthorn blossom into the house, illness and death would quickly follow. People in the medieval period said that the flowers had the same smell as the Plague furthering this superstition. In fact botanists have now come up with an explanation for this. They have since discovered the chemical trimethylamine in the blossom which is also one of the first chemicals to be formed in decaying animal tissue. As people would keep their dead in the house before burying them during the medieval period they would be familiar with the smell of death, explaining how this superstition could take hold.

More tales to be told

tree mythology
There are so many trees that also have a fascinating backstory and it is easy to see why they hold such a prominent place in folk tales. Many find their presence calming and inspirational – from the writer William Wordsworth to the artist David Hockney. Trees have also helped people to conceptualise the natural world. From falling leaves in autumn to new life and blooms in spring, they have aided human understanding of the life cycle and helped to affirm our connection to nature.

Annie CorcoranAnnie works for the Primrose product loading team mainly creating web pages and writing product descriptions. When not at her desk you can find her writing for The Independent, re-reading Harry Potter or out for a walk.

See all of Annie’s posts.

Annie, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Planting, Plants, Trees, Watering

very dry trees

When you think of British summer time you might think of maybe a few sunny days where you can enjoy a refreshing glass of pimms in your garden. Or you think of the fact that whenever anyone suggests a barbeque it starts raining. You definitely don’t expect there to be endless sunshine with soaring temperatures for weeks on end. You certainly don’t expect temperatures of over 30 degrees and neither does your garden.

This summer has been something of an anomaly and seems set to continue. While we might be basking in the glorious sunshine we should spare a thought for our poor gardens which will need a little bit of extra TLC while the endless summer stretches on. The lack of rain and the unrelenting heat brings its own problems. Young trees and shrubs may struggle to thrive and might even die. However, all is not lost! There are a few things that you can do to ensure that your garden remains looking green, healthy and beautiful all summer long.

Contents:

Water, Water & More Water

It may seem obvious that during the hot weather you may need to water your plants more regularly. Young trees especially need frequent watering as they have a much smaller root system than that of an established tree. Young roots can dry out very quickly during a hot spell and that can ultimately lead to your young tree dying. So if your tree is newly planted you should ensure that it is watered every day for at least the first two weeks to help provide the roots with the moisture and oxygen it needs. After that you should make sure you water your  tree at the very least once a week, if there has been some rainfall, but even more frequently during a heatwave.

When should I water?

However, it isn’t just about the frequency with which you water young trees and shrubs it’s also when you water them as well. You should either water your garden very early in the day or in the evening when it is cooler to help keep the soil moist for longer. Watering plants during the heat of the day is actually a lot less effective and can cause damage. Water droplets on the leaves act like a magnifying glass for the sun’s rays. They make them more intense and so even though you think you are helping hydrate your young tree or shrub you can actually cause more damage.    

How much water?

So you know to water your tree frequently and you know when you should do it as well. However, you also need to know how you should water young trees. People are often tempted to water their plants little and often. However, you will find that your young tree or shrub is happier when given a slow drench of at least half a large watering can every few days. This period of dryness encourages them to make deep roots which is good for supporting the tree and will mean less maintenance in the future.

If you are unsure about whether your tree needs to be watered or whether it has been watered enough there are a couple of simple ways to check. If you want to check whether the tree needs to be watered you can do this by checking the soil beneath the mulch layer early in the morning. You just stick your finger in the soil and if it is damp your tree should be fine. If it is dry then you do need to water it. To check you have given your tree enough water you should check that the root ball is wet and can use a trowel to do this if necessary.

Watering hacks

Mulch

Laying downs some mulch around the base of the tree prevents water running off when the ground is hard and allows much more of it to sink into the soil. Woodchip is excellent, spread it in a circle approx. 3 foot in diameter.

Create a bowl

Best done when planting, if you create a bowl like shape around the base of the tree this again aids with retaining water and funnels it down towards the roots of the tree. You can build a little mud wall around the tree if already planted and it will serve the same purpose.

The upside down milk bottle

Insert an large bottle upside down into the ground and cut the end off. You can then pour water into it and it will soak slowly into the ground, directly where you want it. You may find that a bamboo cane for support helps it stay in place.

What if there is a hosepipe ban?

A hosepipe ban could be on the horizon this year. Especially if the heatwave is set to keep going. As the main way to keep your young trees or shrubs alive is to water them you might think that trying to keep young trees alive is fruitless. However, there are a few ways that you can get around this. Firstly, you can install a water butt. Nowadays there are thousands of styles to choose from so you don’t necessarily have to end up with an ugly tank in your garden. As long as you have an outside wall or guttering system in place you should be able to collect plenty of rainwater and use that to water your garden.

You can also use grey water. Grey water is waste water that has come from places such as your bath or kitchen sink. You can even collect the water from your washing machine and use this to water the plants when you are not allowed to use a hosepipe. If you are going to do this though you need to be aware of what is in the water. Grey water that has come from these areas is likely to contain harmful detergents. So if you are going to use this method you should make sure that the products you use are environmentally friendly.

What if it is too late!?

By the time you are reading this, it might be already too late. There will be many arboreal casualties this year, and even the best of gardener will struggle with their losses. It is a sad time, unless you sell trees of course. A simple Cambium test is the best way to check if your tree has expired. Scratch away the top layer of bark with your thumb. Make sure you do this on the main stem because, in extreme weather, the tree will start by sacrificing its extremities first. If  you reach moist green flesh, then your tree is hanging in there!

If not, as cold as it sounds, it’s time to start planning its replacement. You might like to consider  holding off until autumn to plant your next tree. Autumn is by the best time of year to plant; the ground is still warm, there is good rainfall, the trees are entering dormancy and they have all winter to establish a strong rootbase. In fact, the majority of young trees that you see struggling this year will have been planted in spring, not the autumn before. 

Head over to the plants section of the primrose website to order you bare root trees for delivery at the perfect time. Or, if you are impatient, we have potted trees available now!

Annie CorcoranAnnie works for the Primrose product loading team mainly creating web pages and writing product descriptions. When not at her desk you can find her writing for The Independent, re-reading Harry Potter or out for a walk.

See all of Annie’s posts.