In the Glasshouse, Christmas is a chance to transform the display into something magical. This year the theme in the Temperate Zone is Narnia, so our famous poinsettia tree has become a home for Mr Tumnus and the White Witch’s throne stands in the arid section, as her icy influence spreads silver foliage plants in amongst the succulents.
The White Witch hasn’t managed to infiltrate the Tropical Zone (perhaps she doesn’t like the humidity) and so that has a colourful red, green and purple colour scheme. There are also pillars adorned with Calanthe and miniature Phalaenopsis, and Angraecum-filled woks stand in the pond while ropes made of soft Tillandsia hang from the ceiling.
Christmas started with the Glasshouse and Propagation teams early in the year when we began to propagate and grow the hundreds of plants we would need, including poinsettias, Fittonia and Anthurium. Then in September we started making the Tillandsia ropes to hang from the ceiling. Tillandsia is a thread-like plant, also known as Spanish moss, it doesn’t need soil to grow, taking all the moisture and nutrients it needs from the air. To make the ropes we wrapped the Tillandsia around wire loops, and cared for them by spraying with water daily and giving them time to grow and plump up.
However, after such a long build up, most of the actual set up of Christmas happens in two days, with trainees and staff brought in from all over the garden to help. While Christmas music belts out from the stereo we rush hither and thither laden with tinsel, plants and baubles, the atmosphere is jolly, if a little frantic.
The first day starts with several Christmas trees put up around the Temperate Zone, as the poinsettia frame is erected and the flowers slowly attached, reaching the top with the cherry picker. Meanwhile we do some replanting in the Tropical Zone.
There are a few excess Christmassy plants, so these are scattered throughout the beds to add some colour. Balls of all sizes made of wicker, tinsel and Tillandsia are hung in the arid section and the large and very heavy White Witch chair is lifted to the top of the cactus hill and decorated.
The raising of the giant Christmas tree outside is quite an operation and we need the Arboriculture team to make sure that it is carried out safely. There is a tense moment as the tree starts to lift off the ground, but it is quickly steadied and settled in place by Tobin waiting on the cherry picker.
Day two and the cherry picker moves into Tropical for the hanging of the Tillandsia ropes; since we haven’t used these before, there is some discussion about how we should go about it and how high the ropes should be. Meanwhile Sandra creates some beautiful displays with aloes and Kalanchoe for the arid section that succeed in making desert plants look icy. In the Temperate Zone twinkling lights are wrapped around the tree ferns.
After two days the Glasshouse looks ready for Christmas. Having so many people unfamiliar with the Glasshouse and working in a small space was tricky, throw in a cherry picker, several hundred poinsettias, a few Christmas trees and a lot of curious visitors into the mix and the result was cheery chaos.
At the end of a crazy few days the display looks great, we all feel the festive spirit and the only casualty is one trainee with a sore finger from a hammering incident.
Find out more about Christmas at RHS Garden Wisley