Can you remember how it felt the first few times you saw a Christmas tree put up in your living room? It’s about the closest thing to magic there is – a piece of the wild that becomes an honoured house guest for a few charmed weeks.
Lots of different breeds of tree have played this happy role in British homes over the last century-and-a-half. The most traditional in these parts is the Norway spruce, the first tree popularly used as a Christmas tree in the UK. The oldest living member of the species is a tree in Sweden called Old Tjikko, whose 9,560-year-old root system far predates Christmas, Christianity and the Coca-Cola truck.
In recent decades, the Norway spruce has been supplanted in many households by another species: the Nordmann firm, which tends to be gentler on the hands and less prone to dropping needles.
Not content with these two traditional options, a significant minority of households are now looking to other types of tree to play the part of festive centrepiece, such as the beautiful blue spruce and the gorgeous-smelling Canaan fir.
Join us as we review some of the finest examples of these fabulous festive trees that can be bought online for Christmas 2018.
Farmer Tom’s Famous Sussex Fir: £39-£150, SendMeAChristmasTree
Heights available: 4ft, 5ft, 6ft, 7ft, 8ft, 9ft, 10ft
Father Tom’s Famous Sussex Fir – or the Canaan fir as it’s known in its native Canada – is not traditionally used as a Christmas tree in the UK. We can see that changing.
This beautiful tree, a relative of the balsam fir, will give your home a wonderful citrus-like scent over Christmas. It’s a distinctly festive aroma, but refreshingly different to more commonly used breeds.
The tree’s branches are very upright and springy – ideal for holding decorations. There’s a superabundance of needles on each one, giving the tree a dense and healthy appearance. The branch tips look a little like cloves.
One downside to the Canaan fir is that it seems to drop a bit more than, say, the average Nordmann fir, but we think it more than merits a few extra minutes’ vacuum-cleaning around its base.
Even before you lay eyes on the tree itself, the packaging it comes wrapped in wishes you a Merry Christmas. We think this tree will help make that wish a reality.
6ft Norway Spruce: £39.95-£155.95, Pines and Needles
Sizes: 3ft, 4ft, 5ft, 6ft, 7ft, 8ft, 9ft, 10ft, 11ft, 12ft
Here’s a superb example of that most classic of Christmas trees, the Norway spruce.
This tree’s orange-brown branches show vividly through its deep green needles, creating the striking colour contrast that’s largely absent in other popular breeds. If you’re anything like us, you may have unwittingly pined for this distinctive look when using other kinds of Christmas tree.
Another archetypally festive trait of the Norway spruce is its scent. One whiff of this tree from Pines and Needles sent our thoughts straight back to Christmases past.
One mild note of caution: Norway spruce needles can get quite sharp towards the centre of the tree, so take care when picking it up by the trunk.
6ft Nordmann Fir: £34-£188, The Christmas Forest
Sizes: 3ft, 4ft, 5ft, 6ft, 7ft, 8ft, 9ft, 10ft, 11ft, 12ft
The Christmas Forest’s Nordmann fir is a lovely low-drop tree with long, soft needles that are particularly gentle on the hands. In other words, this could be a great choice for children and sensitive grown-ups to decorate and live around. Its branches aren’t the stiffest, so you’ll need to hang your decorations relatively far towards the trunk.
Irrespective of bauble placement, it looks fantastic, with needles a light, fresh-looking shade of green offset with white streaks. We gave it a good shake and were pleased to see very few needles fall off – which is exactly what we’re looking for in a Nordmann fir.
We were impressed to learn that The Christmas Forest plants one tree in Africa for every one it sells in the UK – an expression of Christmas spirit to warm even the most Scroogelike of souls.
Living Norway Spruce: £15-£35, Homebase
Sizes: 60-80cm, 80-100cm, 3-4ft, 4-5ft
It's a lovely thing to have a real tree in the house for Christmas – but we dare say it's an even lovelier thing to get a Christmas tree that will stay with you for many years to come.
This living Norway Spruce from Homebase will do exactly that, provided it’s well looked after. It can be planted in the garden after the holidays, ready to evoke festive memories through the seasons. If you can, leave it in a patio or greenhouse for a few weeks after Christmas to help it get used to colder conditions.
We reckon the trees at the larger end of Homebase's living tree range – the 4-5 footers – are the ideal size for a living tree: just tall enough to command a presence straight away, with plenty of room for growth.
Interestingly, you can find out where your Homebase tree grew up by typing its label number into the website needlefresh.co.uk. Ours was grown in the Drynie Woodlands on the Black Isle, near Inverness.
Non-Drop Nordmann Fir Christmas Tree: £44.99-£249.99, Good Elf
Sizes: 4ft, 5ft, 6ft, 7ft, 8ft, 9ft, 10ft, 11ft, 12ft, 13ft
Gloriously natural in appearance, yet supernaturally adept at hanging on to its needles, Good Elf’s Nordmann Fir is the most house-trained of the trees we’ve tested.
The tree is broad and dense, with bark rich in shades of brown, white and moss green – mementos of a woodland life. Its needles are a vibrant mix of greens, with a few chalky highlights.
We tried ours with one of Good Elf’s Bear Trap stands, which we gave top marks for being both effective and extremely user-friendly.
Living Blue Spruce: Homebase, £15-£30
Sizes: 1-2ft, 2-3ft, 2.5-3ft, 3-4ft
Here’s another living, respiring Christmas tree from Homebase.
The blue spruce is used relatively rarely as a Christmas tree, and we think it deserves far more of the limelight than it currently receives.
This example from Homebase looks at its best in the 3-4ft size category – a great height of tree for perching on a table-top to watch over your presents. Its icy blue branches are simply stunning.
The pots these trees come in are cheery and practical enough, but you may want to add a dash of dazzle by covering yours in tinsel and/or wrapping paper.
Fraser Fir: John Lewis & Partners, £75-£120
Sizes: 5-6ft, 6-7ft, 7-8ft, 8-9ft
Here’s a tree to make the American expat in your life feel right at home. Fraser firs are the Christmas tree of choice in the states, and this fetching example from John Lewis makes a good case for adoption into your own festive traditions.
Much like a Nordmann fir, this tree is very good at holding its needles – and like the Norway spruce, its branches are firm and well suited to holding decorations. In other words, the Fraser fir is something of a best-of-both-worlds Christmas tree, and John Lewis’ Scottish-grown stock of them is evidently in very fine fettle.
Nordmann Fir: Tree2MyDoor
Sizes: 5ft, 6ft, 7ft, 8ft, 9ft
A beautiful Scottish-grown Nordmann Fir from year-round tree suppliers Tree2MyDoor. This one’s especially elegant, with a lovely shape, a silvery trunk and branches a richer brown than some other trees of this species.
The needles are a lovely mix of whites and greens – a colour palette that could look great with chic and sparsely arranged decorations. They are not quite so densely as the needles on some of the other trees we’ve featured.
We really appreciated the carry bag this tree came packaged in. It’s equipped with handles, which makes it nice and easy to move around the house or garden.
The Verdict: Best real Christmas trees
It’s may not be quite the same as the Christmas trees of our childhoods, but we’re naming the Canaan Fir from Send Me A Christmas Tree our Best Buy. The tree we received was lush, healthy, and just different enough to catch our attention. That’s not to mention its divine scent, which we’ve come to regard as a Christmas present in its own right.