We take a look at this year's Christmas Cotehele Garland
PUBLISHED: 13:24 06 December 2018 | UPDATED: 13:24 06 December 2018
©National Trust Images/James Dobson
Cornwall is not short of unique Christmas celebrations but top of everyone’s list is the Cotehele Garland – a stunning display featuring 40,000 dried summer flowers. This year visitors can expect even more flora with an installation made up of 20,000 cut out flowers to mark the centenary of the end of World War I
About the garland
Now in its 62nd year, the Cotehele Garland has become a winter legend. Seeds are sown at the beginning of the year with harvesting beginning as early as April.
Each year between 20,000 and 40,000 flowers are harvested and dried. This year will see a record 45,000 included in the garland thanks to a warm dry summer.
An additional 20,000 cut out flowers from sketches by artist-in-resident Dominique Coiffait will decorate the walls of the Great Hall to mark the centenary of the end of World War I.
Once it comes down, the garland is composted after volunteers first spend a day remove all the wires.
It’s something that has to be seen to be believed. The Tudor era Great Hall at Cotehele decked in an 18-metre long floral garland strung across the ceiling.
For the past 62 years the gardeners at the National Trust property near Saltash harvest as many flowers from the garden as they can – the numbers collected range from 20,000 upwards – and are hung to dry in the property’s attic. Here they hang until the end of October when work begins for making and installing the giant decoration spanning around 60ft.
And this year there will be an additional 20,000 flowers on display. All created by artist Dominique Coiffait. Cotehele’s first artist-in-residence was commissioned to create something to complement the garland and mark the centenary of the end of World War I. His response was to draw and sketch from the garden during the year. These sketches have been reprinted many times over and each one cut out and added to a series of large boards that will adorn the walls of the great hall. Alongside the work – which has seen enthusiastic volunteers join him in the cutting out phase – he has run a series of workshops for visitors and local schoolchildren to ensure the whole community is involved.
During his research, Dominique discovered the journals of a market gardener working at Cotehele during the First World War I who documented life during WW1 and commented on what he was growing everyday and then there’d be a mention of neighbours son dying in the war.
‘I used that as a narrative to build an artwork around,’ explains Dominique. ‘I wanted to celebrated Cotehele and the gardens and the garland, because it was going to sit with the garland.’
Dominique brought this together with the styles of the arts and crafts movement that dominates during the war when William Morris was popular at the time.
‘I know that a lot of people could join in with the cutting out side of things so if I printed out I could get a lot of engagement.’ In the end the enthusiasm for getting involved has exceeded expectations. ‘We have had two-year-olds learning to use scissors here and a 96-year-old cutting flowers out. People could also take envelopes of uncut flowers home to cut and send back. We had people take them home for housebound neighbours and older people and then we had people contacting us who had seen friends cutting out on facebook asking to get involved.’
Dominique spent the year drawing all the flowers in the garden throughout the year and created linoblocks to reproduce his drawings.
‘I’ve printed 20,000 flowers – around 300 different varieties. There are also references to nature, insects, animals; when I’ve been here at the estate when everyone goes home, the place comes to life with deer and rabbits,’ he adds.
In total 30 boards will be displayed around the walls based around seasonal lines as well as using colours to represent the red, white and blue flags waved at the end of the war.
The installation of the garland takes around two weeks and visitors can watch as gardeners and volunteers create the floral swag. This year work begins 29 October.
With a snow-laden spring, the gardeners were worried they wouldn’t have enough flowers to harvest – but thankfully a hot dry summer allowed them to catch up and this year we can expect a bumper garland. Alongside the main garland a smaller one is created by local schoolchildren. Each spring schools are given seeds to grow and can donate their flowers. This is added to spare flowers from the garland.
Despite the snowy spring, this year has been a bumper year for the flowers. ‘We’ve got about 45,000 flowers picked and dried and about 14 varieties, says Cotehele gardener Vicky Dillion who is marking her 18th garland this year. ‘Things took a long time to get going because of the weather but then things really kicked off and we were picking every day.
I like the Helichrysum, which is the strawflower,’ ‘I like the paper roses because they are delicate and I like the paper daisies because they are quite bold and the paper grasses or Bunny Tails are really soft.
‘We’ve tried to colour theme it to the red white and blue and we’ve never had an artist to help us so that’s quite special. It’s going to be something very different.’
Alongside the garland they decorate a doorway and the barn is decorated with a children’s garland created by nearby schools, ‘We give them plants to grow and pick and dry them and come and make their garlands while we make ours. Sometimes they come back with buckets of flowers, sometimes just a few. We never know what we are going to get,’ adds Vicky.
You’ll be able to see the garland until 31 December (excluding Christmas Day and Boxing Day). Cotehele is open from 11am-4pm and normal admission charges apply.
Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/cotehele for more information.