As I think many of you know, I have spent a great many hours of my life cutting, drying and arranging flowers both for work projects and also for my own personal pleasure, especially at Christmas. It’s a hobby I love and never tire of. Those of you who have read my latest novel ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ will know that this keen interest of mine has even crept into a murder mystery!
But anything I have ever produced as a Christmas decoration pales into insignificance next the utterly extraordinary giant swag that, every Christmas, graces the Great Hall in Cotehele in Cornwall. Although this National Trust property dates back to Tudor times, the yuletide tradition of decking the Great Hall with a garland is a relatively recent one. Begun in the 1950s, the Christmas flower garland is now firmly established as one of Cotehele’s annual highlights.
Every November, gardeners and volunteers at Cotehele create the 60ft long Christmas garland using thousands of flowers grown on the estate. The giant swag hangs in the Great Hall throughout the festive season and, if you are anywhere near Saltash on the Cornwall/Devon border between now and 6th January 2018… I urge you to go! You will need to book, so do have a look on the website before you set off.
Preparations for the garland begin almost a year earlier in February when the flower seeds are sown and planted in early spring in the Cut Flower Garden. The gardeners pick them daily during the summer, strip their leaves and carefully hang them in the potting shed to dry. Stripping the leaves from each individual stem is one of the most time-consuming elements in the garland-preparation process. Typically, the gardeners would like about 30,000 flowers in the garland – yes THIRTY THOUSAND!!
One of the things I love about this magical project is that, rather than following a standard design, each year the garland is different and depends on which of the specially grown flowers have done well. The garland often includes ornamental grasses, paper daisy, paper rose, statice and garden thrift.
Creating the garland is a task that involves Cotehele’s gardeners and volunteers using scaffolding to add flowers into the growing festive display. The results are spectacular, not only because of the stunning visual impact the garland makes but also because of the months of work, skill and care that has gone into creating it.
Photo: The Christmas swag at Cotehele – photo copyright National Trust, go to their website for more information and photos