So you think you’re stressed about Christmas?
Meet Helen Watson, a woman for whom the festive season never ends. Year in, year out, she starts planning Christmas at the beginning of January.
She’s no Crimbo-compulsive, though - it’s her job. Helen, 49, is a director of family-run Ferndale Garden Centre in Dronfield. Hunting done the latest trends in trees, trimmings and all manner of festive frippery takes time and skill. But it’s big business...
Q. When did Christmas 2013 start for you?
A. When I flew to Dusseldorf, Germany, on January 2 to view, select and start ordering our ranges from one of our major suppliers. It’s like Christmas shopping but 11 months earlier than for everyone else.
Q. Run us through the rest of your “Christmas year”...
A. After our trip to Germany I then head off to the trade’s Harrogate Christmas & Gift Fair for three days. The Harrogate show is lovely as there are so many colleagues from other garden centres there that I have met over the last 25 years. In the evenings we eat together and invariably talk about Christmas. Then there’s a buying trip to London and another in Birmingham.
Once back at Ferndale we count the remaining stock, pull together the range and work out how to create a ‘new’ feel for next Christmas. The annual problem is how many do we buy? I always kick myself when we under-order but it’s very hard to predict what will catch our customers’ attention.
Q. So when does Christmas 2014 start for you?
A. It has started already - I have copious notes on what to change, buy more of and how to improve our displays. Our flights are booked for January 5.
Q. Are you sick and tired of Christmas by the time December comes around?
A. Absolutely not - I love it! The best part is knowing that our efforts help make other people’s Christmases special. Often we get to see photos of our customers’ Christmas tables or their decorated trees. They are very proud of their Christmas homes and rightly so; a lot of effort and thought goes into it.
Q. At Ferndale, how many trees and Christmas lights will you sell this year?
A. If we counted the actual light bulbs on the strings of lights we have sold his year, we would have given up at 260,000. As for trees, we sell well over a thousand of all shapes and sizes, real and artificial.
Q. What are the season’s top themes, must-have items and colour choices this year?
A. Last year was very traditional, which we felt was connected to the recession. However this year the white/gold/silver trend has proved to be very popular. We wonder if this is a sign of growing confidence. Also very popular this year were our dancing flame candle and dancing Santa hats (don’t ask), both of which we have sold out very early on. And our new outdoor resin ‘wicker’ range of reindeer’s is big - they are definitely the classier option for giving your garden a festive feel.
Q. What does Christmas mean to you? Commercialised money-spinner, or still magical?
A. Still magical, but it is a very important part of our business. Our Christmas department keeps us busy when the gardening part of the business is very quiet due to the winter season, when nobody ventures into their garden.
Personally it is a very special time of year. Although the run up to it is exhausting, when Christmas Eve actually arrives it is time to switch of and focus on what it’s all about - family, friends and relaxing.
Q. How do you prepare for your own Christmas Day? Do you go to town, or do the minimum?
A. I don’t do minimum because I love my family Christmas. Our home has lit garlands and two indoor trees. The one in the sitting room is an 8ft artificial hung with every type of decoration you can imagine, from ones the children made as they have grown up to a new one of their choice each year, In recent years my step daughters have added to this so there is not much room on it! I also have a fresh Nordmann fir in the kitchen bearing clear cluster lights and glass icicles only. I’m not a tinsel fan - I would never let my kids Ben, Josie and Ella put it on the tree.
I put icicles all around the outside of the house along with lights on the outdoor topiary.
I have a mad day at the beginning of December when I buy all the presents in one go. I wrap them and write cards in the evenings and aim to have the majority done for mid December. I hate to be rushing around on Christmas Eve.
Q. You had 27 people for dinner on Christmas Day last year. Heaven, or hell?
A. We couldn’t decide which side of the family to have with us, so we invited all of them! It was brilliant. I did all of the cooking, which I love, I had a couple of evening sessions making things in advance and freezing them and did loads more prep on Christmas Eve. The only hiccup? When my husband Richard bought out his home-made chilli and vodka-infused pickled onions – far too hot!
This year will be a much quieter affair. My kids will be with their Dad and Richard’s girls, Lucy and Katy, will be with their mum in Ireland. We will be eating at my sister Linda’s
Q. What would your dream Christmas be - a far-flung getaway from it all?
A. I wouldn’t want to be away at Christmas. My dream Christmas is simply for us all to be together at home, with a dog walk in the morning, lovely food and relaxing in front of the fire in the evening with a glass of port.
Q. There has been sadness in your family. Your brother took his life at 22. Does it make Christmas a poignant time?
A. It is now 29 years since, Kevin, my brother died and you do adjust to the hole in your life. But I know he would have loved to be with us all.
Q. Do you think there must be sadness for many families at Christmas? It’s a time of togetherness; does it put pressure on?
A. Yes, there is for many families. It’s made worst, I suspect, when everyone else is having what appears to be a good time. We all know if we are not careful that the stress of Christmas can become more important than the real meaning of it. I think it’s important not to make it a competition with yourself.
I’d say to anyone facing a tough first Christmas after loss, do something different but don’t stop having Christmas, especially if you have others in the family to be with. If you’re with good friends and close family they won’t mind dishing out the tissues.