At home, Christmas trees: The easy way to Yuletide greens

By 25 December, five-and-a-quarter-million real Christmas trees will have changed hands for an average of around pounds l5 apiece. Five-and- a-quarter-million households will have struggled to stand the thing upright wedged in a bucket with house bricks or fiddled with those infuriating screws on stands which are alleged to be the final solution to leaning- `tree syndrome. Rosalind Russell looks at the alternatives to pine needles on the carpet.

According to the British Christmas Tree Growers' Association, more than 50 per cent of the trees will be Norway spruce, 35 per cent non-needle- drop Nordmann or Noble firs and the rest pine or blue spruce. Although most families in the UK put up a Christmas tree, only 20 per cent choose real ones.

But hardly any will achieve the twinkly elegance you see in magazines like Perfect Home, where the trees never seem to have light cable draped around like spaghetti, or are capped by an old fairy that has seen better days.

Alive to the angst of the house-proud but hopeless tree decorator, a number of companies have offered easy options. The Marks & Spencer Home Catalogue has two sizes of artificial trees already fitted with lights: the 4ft 6ins with 80 lights is pounds 65 and the 6ft6ins with 144 lights is pounds 100 (mail order only). The Argos 6ft pre-lit artificial tree, with 150 lights, costs pounds 49.99.

M&S will also deliver a real Nordmann fir, about 6ft high (without decorations or lights) for pounds 65 plus delivery, but including a water reservoir - a cut tree can drink up to a pint of water a day. Although that is about double the price of most garden centre Nordmann firs that size, at least you will not have an argument with your partner over the shape or have to drive home with it sticking through the sun-roof.

The mail order catalogue for the charity Barnardos sells two artificial- tree styles (frosty or traditional) which come with real pine cones attached to the branches and a pack of coordinating decorations. The 6ft tree with 72-piece pack costs pounds 54.98, plus P&P.

Really trendy home-owners would not be caught dead with a traditional tree, real or otherwise. One of the biggest sellers so far this year is a fibre-optic shimmer effect "tree", the tips of which change colour as they are stroked.

They do not generate heat, so are safe for children who find them fascinating. They sell for around pounds 49.99 in Selfridge's and other big stores. And John Lewis has progressed the minimalist bundle of twigs idea (promoted heavily by interior designers) by producing a gold twig tree and a silver apple- and-pear tree (pounds 39 each).

Heals has sold so many of its red chilli pepper tree lights (at pounds 26.50 a set) it has had to order another delivery. The display, draped around a handsome 5ft cowboy-and-Indian type cactus in the store in King's Road, London, provoked a rush among owners of loft and warehouse conversions, for whom a trad tree is about as chic as Pot Noodles.

But Katrien van Liefferinge might yet come out at the top of the alternative tree. Trained as a cabinet maker, van Liefferinge, who lives in Leeds, took an honours degree in three-dimensional design at Glasgow School of Art.

Her Christmas tree, the Luminosa series No 3, is an inflatable, made of PVC, punctuated with white or multi-coloured fairy lights, making them look like bizarre but jolly sorcerers' hats. The 1m size is pounds 75 and the 1.2m is pounds l20. Individually made (so sizes are approximate) the Luminosas are supplied with bulbs and fitted plug. They are part of van Liefferinge's inflatable light objects series, which she says was inspired by an interest in fairytales and comics.

It this is all too easy and you prefer your tree to provide a challenge, there is always the one offered in the Bits & Pieces mail-order catalogue. It is a three-dimensional, double-sided 2ft jigsaw of a Christmas tree. It costs pounds 12.95 and comes with 23 mini ornament puzzles which fit on the assembled tree. There are 750 pieces, so it you start now it might just be ready by Christmas Eve.

M&S Home Catalogue 0345 902 902; M&S real tree delivery 0345 704 704; Argos 0990 600161; Barnardos 0870 6039090; Selfridge's 0171 629 1234; John Lewis 0171 629 7711; Heals 0171 636 1666; Katrien van Liefferinge 0113 2570241; Bits & Pieces 01379 649 629.

For an Internet list of members of the British Christmas Tree Growers' Association to find one near you, www.bctga,

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