Tis the season when condo and townhouse dwellers realize the 10' (3m) ceilings that feel so spacious don't actually provide any extra area for a full-size Christmas tree.
Luckily, smaller Christmas alternatives are not hard to put together. Most tabletop trees are artificial ones but they can be found in a huge range of sizes, are very portable, easy to store and can be used year after year.
The Alberta spruce is a living tree, which is often available in very small sizes. It grows in a symmetrical pyramid of pale green needlelike rosettes which can be prettily draped with garlands though it's too dense for dangling ornaments. It's a very slow grower and can live in a container outside before rejoining you inside next Christmas.
Outside it needs a semi-shady spot, lots of water in summer and transplanting each year into a slightly bigger pot with an inch of compost for top dressing
Only a handful of well-loved ornaments from past full-size trees will fit mini ones, but people may add some left-over favourites to centerpieces, hang them from branches in a vase of Christmas berrying shrubs, or even deploy them in a shimmering pile within an ornamental basket.
Cones (plain, gilded gold or silver) or small sprays of berried shrubs make pretty decorations in small fancy baskets. Garden centres have a full selection of Christmas greens and berried branches, and sometimes farmers markets have some as well. Gorgeous baskets waiting to be filled are available in thrift stores - and the price is definitely right. People who have friends or family with interesting gardens may find the gardeners happy to donate a few prunings of basket, wreath or centerpiece material.
These might include corkscrew or wavy branches from Robinia 'Twisty Baby,' or from the contorted hazel or the contorted willow. Craft-loving people sometimes spray-paint them white or metallic colours. Red-twig or yellow-twig dogwoods are naturally colourful.
Other Christmas treasures include red or yellow-berried holly, variegated-leaf hollies, the deciduous holly Ilex verticillata, viburnum berries, cotoneaster and the deep violet clustered berries of callicarpa.
One cautionary note here: berried holly branches aren't especially suitable where babies or toddlers run free and unsupervised. Berries tend to drop and holly berries are poisonous. Plants that contribute to wreaths and Christmas front door vases include the annual lunaria and the perennial lunaria (Lunaria redeviva). The annual lunaria has round silver pods, while the perennial form has silver lance-shaped pods. The fat, orange pods of Chinese lanterns are another seasonal brightener.
None of these three beautiful plants are noted for good behaviour in the garden. Chinese lantern plants are rabid root-runners. Meanwhile, the annual and perennial lunarias self-seed far and wide.
Centerpieces can be large and elaborate or as simple as cedar fronds centered with a Christmas figure. Cedar drapes beautifully, but it does dry out fast and needs misting two or three times daily.
It's worth remembering that though greens in Christmas centerpieces look beautiful with candles, evergreens can be huge fire hazards when flame is near.
Larger centerpieces can be stabilized with florists foam or based in a shallow vase. I prefer vases because when extra moisture is available, greenery lasts longer and berries stay on better.
? Send gardening questions to Anne Marrison via email@example.com