The Cotehele Holiday Garland

Courtesy of an article in the holiday issue of the British edition of Country Living, I became acquainted with a National Trust property in England known as Cotehele. The property features a rambling stone manor house built in the 14th and 15th centuries, on 1300 acres of property.  It is one of the oldest and most well preserved Tudor houses extant in England today.  It has been owned and maintained by the National Trust for a very long time. People visit for the gardens, art and tapestries, and events. They support the Cotehele conservation efforts. Country Living visited for the Christmas garland, which has graced the Great Hall from late November through the beginning of January, since 1956.

The story of the Cotehele garland is an enchanting one. The project takes about a year, start to finish. All of the flowers that go in to the garland are grown at Cotehele. In a good year, 35,000 flowers will be grown and dried especially for the garland. The seed which gets ordered in December will be sprouted, and transplanted into individual planting packs. Grown on until they are sturdy enough to go in the ground, many thousands of seedlings are planted out in April. Both staff gardeners and volunteers help plant, tend, and harvest the flowers.

At harvest time, the flowers are cut, and bunched for drying. The flowers are hung upside down in the attic above the kitchen to dry. The varieties of flowers grown are different every year, but the garland is predominantly populated by white flowers. One year the garland was constructed in commemoration of the end of World War 1, and featured red white and blue flowers. The Cotehele garland not only takes months to create, but it is organized around an idea decided upon prior to construction.  The garland is not only beautiful, but it is meaningful to the community from whence it comes.

In early November, a team of Cotehele gardeners and volunteers assemble to begin the task of creating the garland.  Bunches of pittosporum branches are tied to a stout rope, one bunch at a time, very close together. This creates a green garland some two feet wide  and sixty feet long whose branches will capture and hold the flowers as they are stuffed in to the greens. It takes 3 people about a week’s time to transform 40 wheel barrow loads of pittosporum into a 60 foot long garland. Astonishing, this.

The garland is hung high in the air space in its green state, and large scaffolding is positioned so volunteers and staff can safely stuff flowers into the greens. The stuffing of the garland with the dried flowers takes lots of hands over the course of 2 weeks. One account says it takes 40 people two weeks to flower up the garland.

The resulting garland hung in place is magical. In a year in which the dry flowers are especially plentiful, a garland is hung on the jawbones of a whale that has framed the doorway of the great hall since 1837.

The story of the holiday garland at Cotehele is a story worth telling. So many people active in the garden for the good of all. This garland is a story about a community, a place, a gardening community, and a sense of purpose. It is a compelling story.

This holiday garland makes my heart soar. Any sincere expression of the garden is a source of great joy to me. A community garden such as this at Cotehele is a sure indication of how the love, persistence, and cultivation of a garden can benefit many. I am sure to see it in person is a breathtaking experience.

Cotehele garland 2018

If you are interested in the full story, click on the following link.

Deck the Hall

If you are also interested in why I might be talking about a holiday garland on March 11, please read on. The Cotehele garland inspired me to do a version for my newly restored cherubs.  See to follow what has occupied my hands over the past two weeks.

twisted jute rope and dry integrifolia leaves

leaves meeting in the middle

adding the flowers

garland end

I am well on my way to finishing the second garland. How I have enjoyed the magic that is making something.

 

A Belated Valentine

I suspect it has been better than 10 years ago that Rob bought a small collection of oversized kraft paper mache cherubs that had been used for display at a holiday vendor showroom, and had them shipped to the shop. He asked me if I was interested. Yes I was. The purchase cost was nothing. The shipping was something else, as I recall. I was delighted with them. We hung them from the ceiling with fish line, and attached lighted holiday garlands to their hands. The flying cherubs elicited plenty of comments. In subsequent years, I white washed that kraft paper. We sold a few.  Rob loaned some to a restaurant he liked for Valentine’s Day. Six months later, we got them back. The years went by, like they always do.

Then the story of their history gets blurry. The last photo I can find of them hanging in the holiday airspace at Detroit Garden Works is 2012. Is it possible they have been in storage for 6 years?  In January, Karen brought the last 3 remaining cherubs down from the roof of our tool room. She was charged with organizing and repacking all of the boxed holiday items for the winter. We store all of our holiday items on that roof. The three remaining paper mache cherubs were stashed in the far back of that space in plastic bags. Karen took them down, and brought them to my office. What would I like to do with them??

I was astonished and more than a little distressed to find that the putti had come on hard times. Feet and hands were completely detached, wings were askew-some sections had big dents. One cherub had broken upper arms.  I have no idea how this happened. Frankly, I don’t want to know, as I have this inexplicable fondness for them. What is the attraction? They have typically chubby baby boy figures, and astonishing swirling donut like hairdos. The hands and feet are webbed. Their tummies are substantial. Their only garment is ill fitting, and not very stylish. But they have benign and charming faces. And they have wings-what gardener doesn’t fall for a winged creature?

Cherubs have been the subject of countless garden ornament sculptures for centuries. Some represent love, even amorous love. Some depictions are mischievous and Puckish. Some cherubs are reminiscent of children, and innocence. Others bring angels to mind. It is not my intent to write about the origin and history of putti, cherubs and angels in garden ornament. A February project to my mind is less about study and scholarship and more about diversion.  My paper mache babies were in disrepair, and needed to be put back together.  I used fabric and hot melt glue to to reattach the hands and feet. I filled the dented elbows and tummies with light weight spackle.

Suffice it to say that my repairs were not museum quality. The repair joints were lumpy and clumsy – painfully obvious. More obvious was a need for me to cover my repairs with a decorative element that would disguise my inept repairs.  Left over from the holiday season were a number of bunches of dried integrifolia. A California supplier provides dry bunches of branches from this tree. The leaves cling tightly to the branches, even outdoors, exposed to our winter weather. The juvenile foliage is toothed and sharp.  The mature leaves are smooth and quite strong. The stems last a a very long time in their dried state.

I spent a number of hours stripping integrifolia leaves from their branches, and sorting them by size and shape. Some leaves dry flat.  Others dry with an up curve. Others curve down. Applying those leaves over my amateurish repairs would add another dimension to the surface of my cherubs. Now was the perfect time to take this project on, as I had both the time and inclination.

Buried in a box in the office were a number of packets of single mulberry paper flowers. I bought them years ago, with no particular use in mind.  I just liked them.  At last, a place to use them. These paper flowers were perfect for covering the cut ends of those integrifolia leaves. The renovation of the cherubs took on a life of its own. How I have enjoyed reinventing these paper mache sculptures. Pictured above, cherub 1.

From the beginning, I had the idea that I would ask Wayne to spray paint these cherubs all one color, once I was done. Now I am not so sure that they wouldn’t be just fine in their present green and white state. I have time to think about the final finish. Cherub 1 got a full head of integrifolia hair.

I did run out of mulberry paper flowers, so a search on line took me to a company who sells many versions of them. The daisy type flowers are more appealing to me than the roses. They arrived in bunches, each flower attached to a short length of paper covered wire. I glued through my first order of 400, and my reorder arrived in no time. Should you be interested:    mulberry paper flowers

The arrival of the polar vortex in Michigan was a sure sign to stay home. I can say that one of the deciding factors for my choosing landscape design and installation as a career was the idea that I could stay home in nasty winter weather. I took two cherubs, all of my materials and my glue gun home with me. I never ventured to work for seven days. I was busy, in a leisurely sort of way. I knew that viciously cold weather was out there, but I ignored it, but for taking the dogs outside.

I set up shop in my dining room. The peace and quiet meant I could concentrate. I recall a 20 minute period when I felt stir crazy, but that moment soon passed. Every inch of those cherubs got some attention. Cherub 2 got some integrifolia leaf eyebrows and eyelids, and some hot melt glue eyes. A mulberry leaf flower applied backwards improved the shape of the nose.

The cherubs needed  some elevation off the table surface in order for me to work on them. The integrifolia leaves are fairly tough, but dry foliage is brittle. A cardboard box kept the cherub aloft. More cardboard did a fine job of keeping hot melt glue off my dining room table.

A very good time was had by all.

hand detail

cherub 2

Cherub 2 aloft in my office. Rob gave me a hand drilling holes for screws, washers and toggle bolts. Given how they are finished, they will always need to be in the air.

cherub 3

I plan to keep them in the airspace for the foreseeable future. Part two of the project coming up next-you’ll see.