Dried Flowers for Christmas
Christmas has arrived again already at Cotehele, and the gardeners are busy putting together our Christmas decorations and really putting the 'd' in decoration!
"Last year's garland suspended the whole length of the main hall of the Tudor house at Cotehele."
We have a tradition here in Cornwall of constructing a garland made of Pittosporum foliage which is suspended the whole length of the main hall of the Tudor house. It is 18 metres (60 feet) long and about 30cm (12") in diameter and this is the base for our dried flower display.
My memories of this summer are not that it was a particularly good one but the success we have had with the flowers tells another story! Seven months after planting our annual plants we have collected, prepared, bunched and dried over 30,000 flowers for the Christmas garland.
Now that November has arrived the flowers are individually placed into the foliage. This work is being completed by teams of 6 to 8 people per day, but as a first for us this year the Garden Team have invited our visitors to 'have a go'. Although we were a little unsure about this initially, we have been delighted to welcome all those who have lent a hand with staging this unique display.
Building the garland will continue until 25 November and then until 31 December (excluding Christmas Day and Boxing Day) and will be on display in the Hall, with the doorways and walls decorated with winter foliage and the log fire blazing.
Here's my top five flowers for drying, as used in the Cotehele dried flower garland:
- Limonium sinuatum: also known as statice. Its flowers are borne in tufts of vivid colours, everything from blue to pink, yellow or white, and the stems are striking for the unusual wings running their length. It's tender and is grown as an annual: sow in late spring and give it the sunniest spot you've got.
- Limonium suworowii: the Russian statice forms a big, hefty plant with pink or lilac-coloured flowers. The flowers are very different, borne in vertical sprays rather like astilbes. Another tender annual; treat just as you would for statice.
- Rhodanthe chlorocephala subsp. rosea: These annual daisy flowers look as though they're glowing from within: deepest pink on the outer petals gives way to such a pearly pale pink it's almost white at the centre. You can get them in every shade of pink imaginable, but 'Pierrot' is purest white with a yellow-ringed brown centre.
- Helichrysum bracteatum: Densely-petalled pincushions of bracts, the straw flower comes in a rainbow of shades, yellow, orange, crimson or white - sometimes two or three in the same flower. It's an annual needing a warm spot with sharp drainage to do well - give it the right conditions, though, and it's an easy, drought-resistant plant.
- Ammobium alatum: lovely silvery woolly leaves and heavily winged stems topped with clusters of small button-like silvery-white flowers like perfect little sculptures, each petal crisply outlined and the centre a clear buttery yellow. Grown as an annual, it flowers from June to September.
David Bouch is head gardener at Cotehele House near Saltash in Cornwall. You can see the Cotehele dried flower garland from 25 November till 31 December during normal opening hours.