Festive Celebrations
People’s Friend Specials|Issue 149

THERE’S a festive buzz in the air at National Trust properties as the days shorten. Even when skies are grey, some of our best-loved heritage sites bask in a special warm atmosphere as Christmas approaches.

COTEHELE, CORNWALL

Visitors to Cotehele in early November can watch gardeners and volunteers creating a 100-foot Christmas garland of dried flowers, which this year celebrates its 61st birthday.

The project takes 10 days, but preparations begin not long after the previous year’s garland has been taken down.

“We only use flowers grown on the estate and we need a minimum of eighteen thousand dried blooms,” head gardener Dave Bouch explains, adding that he works with a team of three gardeners and more than thirty volunteers.

“So we buy the seeds in January, sow them in February and plant out around mid-April after the frosts have gone.

“We harvest them once the flowers have reached the most perfect form and then hang them up for four to six weeks in our very low-tech drying room – a small, dark area above a potting shed that’s well ventilated. They’re then packed away ready for work to start on the garland.”

The finished garland is on show from November 11 to January 6. The number of blooms varies according to the weather conditions each year, and at the time of writing, the 2017 garland looks set to feature up to 25,000 dried flowers. But it’s impossible to plan the colour scheme or even know which colour will dominate until all have been gathered in.

The first garland at Cotehele was probably a simple green swag, put up across the Great Hall for the family and staff party.

Pictures from the 1980s show a few flowers appearing in the foliage, and since then, the project has gathered momentum to reach the thousands of blooms used today.

There’s always a celebration when the last flower is put into place, but this year members of the public can buy tickets for a special Garland Dinner on December 2, which coincides with the 70th anniversary of the National Trust taking on Cotehele.

And the festive decorations don’t stop at the Great Hall. Beech branches, mistletoe and other foliage from the estate will be creating magical silhouettes on the walls, whilst the Christmas tree will be festooned with flowers saved from last year’s garlands.

Experts at Cotehele also work with four local primary schools to create a garland for the restaurant.

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