The bakelite Holy Family for an antipodean Christmas

I love Christmas. I love even more the lifetime of memories that come out once a year with the Christmas bric a brac stored in the Harry Potter cupboard beneath the stairs. Our little nativity scene may even pre-date Mark’s birth. It certainly pre-dates mass plastic because it is made from its precursor  – bakelite which was not much used after the 1940s. I have to admit that Joseph used to have a teeny tiny lantern that hung from his hand and I can still recall my dismay as I vacuumed it up many years ago and then failed to find it in the cleaner bag.

I enjoyed the wreath I made last Christmas in order to display the bakelite holy family. I know you can buy wreathes at shops like Spotlight but we live in the country so I improvise. In this case I retrieved a few grape vine prunings from where they had been thrown to decompose under a hedge. Because I use fresh flowers, my seasonal wreathes are but temporary affairs when compared to the tinsel numbers I see elsewhere, but their carbon footprint is minimal.

In this example, I just gathered an assortment of flowers in red, yellow and white from around the garden and wove them in to the vine circle. The cup shaped blooms in yellow and red are abutilons and the red berries are from Nandina domestica ‘Richmond’ (often referred to as the heavenly or sacred bamboo though it is neither sacred nor a bamboo). The nandina berries hang on for much of the year and it is worth having a plant if you like some for picking. The white flowers are star jasmine for fragrance (Trachelospermum jasminoides), a variation on a climbing hydrangea (Schizophragma hydrangeoides), our native Jovellana sinclairii and the green and white bells of one of the ornithogalum family. Or they may be an albuca.

Abies procera in our garden at Tikorangi

Ours is a household that tries hard to bypass plastic and other non-biodegradable options that tend to flood our lives every day but even more so at Christmas. I have always shunned the idea of a fake tree though at least the tinsel option is commonly stored away for future reuse. I also have a few ethical issues with the felling of trees to die indoors for twelve days at Christmas. Though not so much the Pinus radiata that is the common Christmas tree in New Zealand; they are quick growing and generally seen as disposable. It only takes three and a half years from seed to get your average sized tree. But the northern hemisphere uses a variety of slow growing conifers. In London one early December, I was somewhat aghast at the severed offerings in all the markets of beautiful Abies of Nordmanniana and Abies procera. Neither are rapid growers and even if they are plantation grown (mostly in Scotland and Norway to serve the London market, if my memory serves me right) it seems a bit, well, a bit like an act of consumer-driven vandalism to sever such slow-growing and potentially handsome long-term specimens merely to hold the Christmas fairy aloft in the front lounge.

These days we mostly reuse our version of the everlasting tree but the grapevines that I wove around the metal frame are due for replacement and this is a job that I need to do in winter when the vines are pruned. I have failed to get my timing right the last few winters so I am not sure what we will do this year as it really is too tatty now.

A flat pack designer tree and an Australian version of the outdoor tree

Over the years I have collected photos of various trees ranging from the ingenious to designer style for upmarket apartments. These last options usually fold flat for easy packing away after the event and there really is no place for a lifetime of memorabilia such as are contained in the family Christmas decoration box. But they are at least reusable and if you have a designer style of Christmas, maybe the designer tree is a good fit.

The tinsel adorned tree stump I photographed in Vincentia, a lesser known beach area south of Sydney. Of course it is wonderfully tacky and no substitute at all for the indoor tree that is the traditional centrepiece of the orgy of gift giving. But it made passers-by smile. It seemed a wonderfully Australian take on a time of year that we still celebrate in a southern hemisphere early summer season with traditions straight from a northern hemisphere winter.

First published in the December issue of NZ Gardener – my final column for that publication. Such are the demands of advance deadlines that I had already submitted this copy before I resigned towards the end of September over this column

8 thoughts on “The bakelite Holy Family for an antipodean Christmas

  1. Carol Hickey

    An engaging piece of writing, Abbie. I, and I’m sure many others, will miss your NZ Gardener column. Wishing you and your family (and the dog!) a peaceful, joyful Christmas.

  2. tonytomeo

    That is a noble fir? I stopped by because I thought it looked like a Spanish fir with blue foliage. I seriously did not recognize it. Isn’t that an odd choice for your region?

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Yes, it is the blue form of the noble fir. Mark’s father imported it and, not realising how large it would grow, originally planted it in the rockery in front of the house. Somewhere we have very old slides showing it there. When it grew very rapidly, he moved it but it is still rather close to the house where we have to warn visitors not to park beneath it when it is dropping its massive cones. That tree will be just shy of 70 years old now.

  3. Roger Haworth

    Hi Abbie Jury,
    My suggestion would be to submit your article to other publications.Such as……

    RHS The Garden
    Fine Gardening USA
    Garden Illustrated UK
    The English Garden UK

    Good luck.
    Roger Haworth

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I think you are probably right. Not sure why we have always had it in our heads that it is an ornithogalum but they are both such huge families, they are not so easy to sort through.

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