Make a note: if you’re near Saltash in Cornwall between November 7th and 21st this year, do visit Cotehele, the Edgcumbe family’s ancestral home, to witness – and join in, if you wish – the making of the glorious 60-foot-long garland that is the centrepiece of the festive decorations in the Tudor hall each year.
Each Christmas, the garland is handmade for the National Trust house by its gardeners, using flowers that have been grown, picked and dried on the estate.
Thousands of flowers are needed to make the garland, says Head Gardener Dave Bouche: “Last year, we had 44,000 individual flowers in the garland and ideally, we like 30,000 but for some years, we have as few as 20,000; it’s entirely dependent on the weather; we need sunny days and low rainfall during the summer.”
Dave and his team keep a close eye on the flowers they have selected to pick – they usually choose six different ones – and once open, the blooms are picked and taken to the loft, where they hang in bunches to dry from ropes slung from the rafters. Picking usually begins in May, but the threat of late frosts at the start of this year delayed the planting out of seedlings which, in turn, meant that picking began rather later than usual. However, “We were lucky with the warm and sunny summer,” Dave says. “This year we’ve grown and picked about 32,000 flowers and the drying has been really reliable. It will be very satisfying to look up at the colourful garland this winter and to remember what the summer was like.”
Visit Cotehele (normal entry applies) from November 7th to 21st, 2014 to see the Christmas garland making. To see the finished garland in place in the Hall, visit between November 22nd and December 31st (closed, Christmas Day and Boxing Day).
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