Thursday 22nd August 2019
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Words: Caroline Bingham
Featured in the December 2016 issue

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Caroline Bingham visited Doddington Hall to help choose a Norway Spruce to be part of their Fairytale themed festive decorations.

The Doddington Estate is certainly abundant. As well as gardens and land which produce fruit, vegetables and honey for the farm shop, café and restaurant, there is a large herd of Lincoln Red cattle and productive agricultural land. Wooded plantations which are home to the Estate’s well-known stock of game are also where spruce and fir trees are nurtured.

I met woodsman Hari Limbu in the café car park ready to drive into one area of the 300 acres of trees which are currently under propagation. Hari has worked on the Estate for fifteen years and his responsibilities include tending the trees and the cattle herd.

“There are trees here,” pointed out Hari, “which I planted in my first year on the Estate. They are about eight feet tall now and will be amongst many which will be cut for sale this year. Depending on the variety (Norwegian Fir or Norway Spruce), we start harvesting some when they reach approximately four feet high or about eight years old. I prune branches as they grow to achieve the full, even pyramid shape which everyone looks for in the perfect tree.”

I noticed that there weren’t any protective sleeves around the newly planted trees to deter rabbits or other wildlife from nibbling them. Hari explained that the biggest pests are muntjac deer and this year in particular the small black beetles, which have caused havoc to many domestic gardens too. Despite these trials it is apparent that far more trees thrive than fail. They require little maintenance other than weed control and twice yearly cutting of the surrounding grass.

We stopped to look at the section which is home to some of the oldest trees in the plantation. Several of the thirty-five-year-old ones had red tags attached, showing they had already been selected by local town councils to be the centrepiece for their forthcoming decorations. Close by, the forty-year-old trees are losing some of their vigour and fullness and these will be cut this year to feed the biomass boiler which warms many of the public areas of the Doddington Hall complex.

I decided to pick my tree from amongst the thirteen year olds, which stand approximately seven feet tall when cut. Our beautiful Norway Spruce was a perfect shape and I did feel a shudder of sadness as Hari swiftly felled it with the chainsaw. Once it was loaded onto the back of the pick-up we headed to the Elizabethan grandeur of the main house to meet Claire Birch, owner of Doddington Hall, in the Drawing Room where our tree would stand.

Tree decorating is always a family occasion in our home and it is one of the joyous rituals each year. Despite only having a coffee and not anything stronger in my hand, the tree’s pine scent filled the room and with a dazzling selection of baubles to adorn our tree, Christmas began to work its magic.

Claire had brought along some of the jewelled and dazzlingly decorated baubles, which are on sale this year in the Bauble Barn. “These delicate glass ones are from Poland,” she said as she held up a rich peacock coloured sphere, “with hand applied decoration.” They were stunningly beautiful, especially as we added lights, richly dressed fairies and butterflies to the branches.

I think I have a broad collection of Christmas decorations but I also like to make new additions to achieve a different look and add memories of Christmas past to the collection. Claire explained that in contrast to the jewel colours, which will be fashionable this year, there is also a trend for white teamed with delicate pastels. “The Bauble Barn offers styles from ‘Bollywood Christmas’ to ‘Woodland Creatures’ with warm metallics especially popular this year,” she said.

The Hall’s rooms are a wonderful backdrop against which to stage the enchanting festive displays which have been created by a team that includes Claire, who runs the Estate with her husband James, several staff members, resident cutting gardener florist Rachel Petheram of Catkin Flowers and lighting and production designer Howell Thomas with students from Lincoln College.

Many of the main rooms will take an individual theme, taking visitors on a whimsical tour through characters, scenes and stories from evocative fairytales. In one of the bedrooms the Princess and the Pea will be depicted using an antique four-poster bed; in the Brown Parlour, you’ll be invited to step into the sweet world of Hansel and Gretel and in the ninety-six-foot Long Gallery the Snow Queen will beckon the visitor in towards her through silent white birch branches and fresh Christmas trees.

My Norway Spruce was just the beginning of the hard work to assemble all of the fairytale tableaux in time for the first visitors. The final touch was to secure a golden fairy to sit on the pinnacle. My morning had made me look forward with excited anticipation to choosing and decorating our family Christmas tree and returning to see the Hall in all its festive finery.

FAIRYTALE CHRISTMAS AT DODDINGTON HALL
Decorated for Christmas, Doddington Hall will be open to visitors every Wednesday (3–7pm), Saturday and Sunday (both 10am–4pm) between Saturday 26th November and Wednesday 21st December. Admission £7.50 adults, children £1.50.

Christmas Trees will be on sale in the Stable Yard from 26th November (9am–6pm, Sundays 10am–5pm) to 24th December (9.30am–12noon).

For information about Christmas at Doddington visit www.doddingtonhall.com or call 01522 694308.

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