Where else can you see a tree with a dipstick?

HENAGAR, Ala. -- When it's time for the Christmas tree to go up, some families might be hard-pressed to come up with 140 ornaments.

At Eddie's Garden Center & Florist, owner Eddie Moore and greenhouse manager Steve Ramsey have decorated 140 trees.

The result is a walk-through wonderland that draws customers from all over the map to this rural community of 2,400 atop Sand Mountain about an hour's drive from downtown Chattanooga.

"The first year, I had three trees," Moore recalls.

That was 27 years ago. Since then, the numbers have ebbed and flowed, though mostly flowed, until every corner of the business is festooned in greenery, lights and ornamentation. Most of the trees are standard heights, 6 to 7 feet, but they range as short as 2 feet and as tall as 91/2 feet.

"And some are decorated in such a way they look over 11 feet," Ramsey says.

There's a range of shapes as well, he adds -- alpine, down-swept, narrow and broad, even a handful of wall trees that are flat on one side for hanging. Boughs are mostly woodland shades of green, but occasionally the path through this manmade forest leads past a more colorful conifer in an eye-popping pink, lime green or red.

The ornaments easily number in the thousands. Traditionalists will find plenty to appreciate: religious icons, primitive folk art, wildlife and natural elements, snowmen and gingerbread.

But the home decorator can be inspired by the experts' sense of whimsy: mermaids, M&M's, Coca-Cola, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Hello Kitty, SpongeBob SquarePants, Kiss, The Beatles, "Family Guy," Yogi Bear, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H, hunting, fishing and John Deere.

And the list goes on.

"We try to coordinate the style of each tree to things people love," Moore says.

Although favorite themes may be repeated from one year to the next, he insists they're never the same way twice.

"There are so many ways to use everything that we've never had to repeat a tree," he says. "It's a different look every year."

Customers are encouraged to pluck their selections "right from the trees," Moore says, though that practice can leave the decorators scrambling to fill holes with comparable ornaments when the stock starts to dwindle.

"Last year, one tree was totally changed out three times," he says.

Officially known as Christmas at Eddie's, the seasonal display debuts at an open house each fall. This year, the date was moved up to mid-October to give shoppers three extra weeks to browse. Moore says he and Ramsey begin their decorating marathon about two months before the open house, working 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, to get everything just so.

In addition to erecting and trimming each tree, there are walls to build and props to assemble. Rather than a random scattering, trees with corresponding themes are grouped in vignettes. The layout changes each year, so walls are built to block off individual "rooms." Fabric backdrops tie in to each theme, such as a swath of peace signs behind a psychedelic '60s tree. Props range from buffet tables to a segment of split-rail fence.

One of the first stops through this grand spectacle is a room filled with fall color. Moore says he doesn't always include an autumnal scene, but doing so gives customers ideas for transitioning through the holidays.

Ramsey calls the focal point of this room the Horse & Buggy Harvest Tree, named for the sizable grapevine sculpture -- its buggy loaded with pumpkins and gourds -- that occupies the front of the tree. A burst of autumn leaves erupts from the top.

The Redneck Tree is a customer favorite. It stands in a base made from a car wheel, and its "star" is a radiator cooling fan. Moore jokes that you can check the tree's water level with the attached dipstick. A distributor cap and cable form one strand of garland. Busch beer cans comprise another. Ornaments include pink foam hair rollers.

Whether a tree's finished look is serious or silly, Moore says his goal is to offer ideas and a chance to purchase a memento, whether the customer decides on a single ornament or a tree full.

"You've got to have something to wow people, something they'll look at and say, 'I can't believe this,' " he says. "You have to get their attention."

Among those wow factors is a section of the building they call "the cave," where the collection of Nativities is housed. The entire space is covered in a paper-like fabric (made from chicken feed bags) that have been crumpled and treated with three shades of paint to resemble stone. The room's cave-like quality better approximates the look of a Bethlehem stable, Moore says.

Ramsey says Christmas at Eddie's draws onlookers "from a good two-hour radius and further when relatives are visiting for the holidays. It's hard to believe this is here in a little town with one stoplight."

Moore says he wants the experience of stepping through the front door to be the entry into "a totally different world ... that you don't leave until you step outside again."

"We all have that little bit of child in us at Christmas," he says. "I want the things you see in here to spark a smile."

IF YOU GOWhat: Christmas at Eddie's.Where: Eddie's Garden Center & Florist, 9112 Alabama Highway 40 West (at Highway 75), Henagar, Ala.Store hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 1-4 p.m. Sundays; store will be open 8 a.m.-noon Christmas Eve and 1-4 p.m. Christmas Day (all times Central).Phone: 256-657-3841.


Eddie Moore and Steve Ramsey of Eddie's Garden Center & Florist offer ideas to give your Christmas tree more presence.

  • Turn up the volume. Make the tree seem fuller by placing evergreen, floral or tinsel-type picks (sprigs attached to a stem) into the tree's bare spaces. For more impact, situate large, even unexpected, pieces of decor in the boughs.
  • Let the top erupt. Rethink the tree's conical shape. Rather than a thin, pointed top, give the tree a headdress with additional picks or cascades of ribbon. If using bows, use at least two so the top looks full instead of flat, Ramsey says. Or add height by placing the tree on a platform. "Some of our trees are on cement blocks covered in fabric," Moore says, "but you'd never know that by walking through."
  • Decorate around the tree. Add corresponding decor on furniture or walls near the tree. Hang snowflakes or single ornaments from the ceiling. In one of this year's vignettes, for instance, Moore and Ramsey have suspended elves at various heights to look as if the poseable figurines are decorating the tree. Walls are covered in fabric to add another layer of color. "These same trees on a white wall would not be as effective," Moore says.
  • Show the tree in its best light. Moore says he has an edge over department stores because fluorescent light is much harsher than the soft lighting he uses. While fluorescence is not an issue in most homes, the proper lighting can add warmth. Supplement strands of lights on the tree with strategically placed spotlights or uplights.
  • Don't be afraid to experiment. Moore and Ramsey change the look of their trees each year and sometimes multiple times in the same year as the decor is sold. Those quick redos are done by instinct, honed by years of experience. Moore says trial and error can be a good learning tool for home decorators. "There's pretty much no color I won't use," he says. "Colors can be used in lots of different combinations, as long as the color is balanced."

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