A sustainable Sussex Christmas tree

Look, I don't want to channel the spirit of Scrooge, but have you ever thought about the environmental cost of Christmas trees? I have. And it worried me.

Sure, if you're not careful, trying to be green can rob some of the most fun times of the year of their joy. But we only have the one planet, so it's worth the disquiet of examining your own decisions carefully. And “humbug” to those who disagree. 😉

Could it really be better, as some suggest, to have a plastic tree, than the beautiful, biodegradable natural variety?

Christmas Carbon Calculations

Thankfully, the figures are clear: you'd need to hang on to an artificial tree for over a decade for it to generate less carbon than buying a locally-grown tree every year. And you're still leaving behind that plastic waste. If you compost your tree after use, and don't travel too far for it, it doesn't generate plastic waste, and releases only the carbon it captured as it grow. If it's being replaced by the growers, all is good.

And so, we can enjoy the fresh spruce smell of the festive season without guilt, because we do buy local. In fact, our tree grew less than eight miles from where we live.

Spruce source: Spithandle

Every year for the last four years, we've headed up to Spithandle Nursery, which grows its own trees. It's a favourite festive haunt of many of our local friends, and a former neighbour even blogged about it four year ago. Since 2016, it's become the opening ritual of our Christmas.

The nursery is just packed full of trees, most still growing, and meandering amongst them, picking and choosing our ideal tree is an absolute joy for our girls.

Tree selection is always something of a battle of wits. My wife is fond of smaller trees, the girls and I like something a bit more impressive. We look, discuss, debate — and even measure. Yes, we take a tape measure with us.

And eventually we make the decision.

A couple of years ago we ended up with one we ended up nicknaming the “wee tree”, not because it was pleasingly small, but because one of the girls had had to do an emergency wee nearby, and that led to us discovering it.

Size matters

This year, for the first time, victory went to the girls and I. It's not the sort of roof-scraper my late father always used to choose from the forest near Kelty, but it's larger than my wife would like, and that is an utter delight to the girls.

Here it is, after my wife and my youngest had dug it up:

A freshly-grown Christmas tree at Spithandle Nursery in Sussex.
Our Christmas 2020 tree

Normally, I'd carry it down to the glasshouse, where I'd pay for it, while the rest of the family browsed the Christmas decoration on sale, had snacks and a drink, and chatted with the family that have run the place for decades.

But this is where 2020 rears its ugly head. After our tree is netted for us, we normally have mulled wine, hot chocolate and a pony ride for the girls.

The COVID19 Christmas

Not this year. COVID has put the kibosh on most of that. The ponies are still there, but the girls could only say, “hello”.

A pony at Spithandle Farm being watched by a young girl.
A girl and a pony. 

The drinks? They'd migrated from the big glasshouse that used to be the centre of proceedings, to the window of the house:

Lots of other little changes, too. The lucky dip had become little lucky parcels. My youngest was delighted with her ballon, as you can see.

So, it wasn't the same as it usually is. The girls felt it more strongly than we did, I think. But they've got used to things being, well, different this year.

The joy, though, is that despite all the changes this year has brought, our little family tradition continued. This weekend we'll decorate our 5th Spithandle tree. And we'll do it in hope. We all might have a few difficult months still ahead, as winter bites and the virus spreads, but needles (of the medical rather than the tree variety) are going into arms. Vaccination is underway.

Hopefully, by next Christmas, the restrictions will be eased or gone, and we'll be back at Spithandle, and enjoying all the same warmth, hospitality and fun we had in previous years.


Adam Tinworth
The South Coast