You’ve probably seen these tiny Christmas trees popping up all over town, but do you know where they come from? We take a trip out to Monbulk to meet the man cultivating these little bundles of Christmas joy.
Each and every year, no matter what we say about spending less money or cooking better food next year round, the one faithful constant in our Christmas rituals is the tree under which we so lovingly place our gifts each year.
Though our love for these traditionally northern trees is tragically out of place in our stinking hot climate, our dedication to these spiky friends is unlikely to dissipate. Indeed, every year, thousands of us go out to churches, parks and shops searching for ‘the one’.
Growing these evergreens day in and day out – with lusciously full branches, the right height and a trunk slender enough to fit into the bucket you keep under the sink – perfection is a lot harder to find than you might imagine.
For Leo Koelwyn, finding 'the one' came nine years ago when on a buying trip to Holland. Whilst looking for new plants to bring back to his nursery in regional Victoria, a casual mention of his love for Christmas trees panned out far better than anyone could have ever imagined.
"It was in the last hour of my last day there that I mentioned it, and I as soon as I saw it, I knew," he says with a chuckle.
Thinking that this little mutation of a classic spruce wouldn't do too well on the other side of the world, the owner happily did a deal and sent Koelwyn home with some cuttings.
Growing steadily over the past four years, Koelwyn and the family-run team at Coolwyn Nurseries have just put 35,000 of these little mutations in Australian homes. Stocking local florists, stores (including Ganim in Fitzroy) and even Bunnings, their Christmas Star is quickly finding its place up there with the turkey and crackers on the list of important things for the big day.
The best thing about these beauties is their size, proving somewhat more petite than your average evergreen and perfect for apartment living or an already crammed living space. But the real greatness is not just that you can pick one up and carry it home on the tram before the big day, but the fact that it can be re-potted, and a few inches added to its height each year, giving you many years of Christmas cheer.
Tucked into the peaceful valleys and mountain folds the 20 hectares Coolwyn occupies in Monbulk are as far removed from city life as one can get. Learning his trade from his father, Koelwyn has been living this idyllic but hard working existence since his formative years.
Emigrating to Australia with his eight children in 1952, Henk Koelwyn was in quick need of a job. "In Holland he had been a green grocer, but he came out here and there was a job working at the nursery, so he did that," says Koelwyn. Two years later, Koelwyn senior began cultivating his own collection at home and the seeds for Coolwyn Nursery were sewn. At just 16, Leo joined his father in growing conifers, topiary, magnolias and, of course, Christmas trees and has never looked back.
Throughout the history of the nursery, the one constant has been the presence of family. "At one stage or another all of my siblings have worked as part of the nursery, and now all of my children work here. It's a good way to do things and it's nice to pass something on," he says.
It is this story and my recently acquired Christmas Star that makes me think that Henk Koelwyn had just the right idea. Continuity through family is not only how memories are made, but how traditions like Christmas continue to go on and remain as dear to us all as they do.
You can pick up your own Christmas Star from local florists, corner stores (including Ganim in Fitzroy) and even Bunnings.