Cotehele garden volunteer Trisha Hilton

Garden volunteer, Cotehele

Trish Hilton - Garden volunteer

Garden volunteer Trisha Hilton talks about her work and experience of creating the famous Cotehele Christmas garland.

I moved to Devon with my husband in August 2013 and one of my ambitions was to volunteer at Cotehele House having visited it many times in the 1980s. I didn’t know in what capacity, but as the house closes in the winter and it was November, I joined the garden team and I love it.

Preparation for the garland starts in January with the seed sowing. About 10 different flowers and grasses are used, some are the same every year but new varieties are always being tried. They are all grown on the estate in the cut flower garden. The young plants are grown successively over spring and early summer, and all the flowers are picked at their best, stripped of their foliage, tied in bunches of 20 and hung in the potting shed roof to dry. 

This goes on throughout the summer and early autumn. On sunny days we do this outside in the garden much to the entertainment of the visitors. The number picked is completely at the mercy of the weather but is usually in excess of 40,000 individual flowers.

Once the bunches have dried, they are counted and stored in the barn loft until needed.

This year we started making the garland on 2 November, this may seem early for Christmas but it is the centre piece of Cotehele’s Christmas celebrations and takes 4 gardeners and 4 volunteers working every day for a fortnight to complete. As you can imagine the garland can’t be completed without the help of volunteers.

At the centre of the garland is a rope, covered in bunches of pittosporum tied on with wire. This is hung in swags along the length of the Great Hall. The dried flowers are pushed into the pittosporum one variety at a time, evenly along its length. A scaffolding tower is erected in the hall so we can put the flowers in. If you're up the tower you can surprise the visitors by answering their questions when they don't know you're there. The garland is 60 feet long and contains 46,000 flowers.
To complete the festive look all the walls and doorways are decorated with more flowers and greenery cut from the estate. 
I love my time in the garden and hope I can do it for many more years to come.
Trisha Hilton, Garden volunteer at Cotehele