Winter’s Embrace: Nurturing Gardens Through the Chill at Fairlight

Winter Garden Fairlight Hall

Back in November, the garden team noticed that all the holly trees were festooned with sparkling red berries, we joked at the time that it was a sign of the hard winter to come. With cold weather in mind the gardeners have been careful to prepare for the worst the winter can throw at us.

Firstly, dismantling the finished container displays around the site. Bringing in any plants susceptible to frost into the heated glasshouse, or tuck under cold frames. Any plants remaining have either been draped with fleece or left to hold their own against winters worst. At Fairlight, we still benefit from the mild maritime conditions offered by our costal location, so frost isn’t a huge risk. The most at risk plants which in the borders are the ornamental bananas and perhaps some of the more unusual palm trees. The bananas, which are probably now 3m tall and planted in sheltered locations are fairly well protected. In the event the bananas do get caught by the frost, being a moncot type plant (very similar to the grass that makes up our lawns), they have secondary growth points or buds just below ground level, well away from risk of frost. A simple hard prune to the ground, will be enough to encourage them to grow, it will however take a while for them to achieve the 3m height again.

Put to bed glasshouse

A packed glasshouse full of over wintering plants


The team have also been busying themselves with bulb planting. Busy planting bulb Lasagnes. It’s a novel idea, selecting bulbs that flower early, in the middle of and towards the end of spring. Early flowering bulbs such as Daffodil or Crocus can be planted towards of the top of the pot, mid-season bulbs such as late-flowering Daffodils, early Tulips or Hyacinths can be planted slightly deeper in the pot to form a mid-layer. Finally, the lowest layer of bulbs can be planted deepest at all. This could include late flowering Tulips, Allium, Fritillaria or Lillies. The result is a pot that is full of colour right through the spring period that changes over time. We have these Bulb Lasagne planted across the site and can be seen at one of our monthly Fairlight Hall Garden open days in 2024.


The worst of the leaf fall is now behind us! Well done to hardworking estate team, who are out on a daily basis blowing leaves away from paths and lawns. These leaves would otherwise block up drains, bury the lawns, but when collected and composted this leaf litter make beautiful garden compost.


The Kitchen Garden has been put to bed, the raised beds have been cut down and liberally mulched with manure, though there is little colour to be seen in the walled garden. With the exception of purple lettuce leaves, purple sprouting broccoli and colourful leaved chard; It is still very green with parsley, nasturtium leaf, lettuce, leeks and Brussel sprouts. Already it is time to think about planning next year, it’s time to think about delving through plant catalogues and online shops for next year’s vegetable seeds. Right now, sourcing early varieties of potatoes and shallots for next year is a must. The cut flower garden has been nicely cut back and mulched. The summer fruiting climbers have been neatly pruned. There is still lots left to do however in the wider garden. The herbaceous borders need to cut back and mulched and there’s lots of winter pruning to be completed.


Much of the gardener’s time these past few weeks has been devoted to making Christmas decorations for Fairlight Hall. Every year the hall gets decorated to a slightly different theme or style, depending on who is working in the garden team at that particular time. The past few years the theme has been traditional red and green foliage, with use of ribbon. Go back further and previous head gardeners have opted for purple and pure white. This year we decided to do something a little different. This year’s theme was gold and silver, and great effort was taken to avoid traditional red and green using as many dried flowers an as naturalistic as possible.

Magnolia leaves used in Christmas arch display

Completed hall arch

Christmas wreath-natural colours


Trying to be as economical as possible the team began by gathering as much foliage as possible across the site. Tough greenery such Pittosporum, Oleria, Holly, Spruce all plants known to tolerate indoor central heated conditions. Added to this many of the dried cut flowers from the garden such as Allium heads, Nigella, Anaphallis and many ornamental grasses, were sprayed gold, silver, rose gold and copper to add a touch of Christmas sparkle. Usually, the deadline for getting the Christmas decorations up in the hall is 1st December.

We began by putting up the Christmas trees, sourced form a local Christmas tree farm. To make any impact in the main hall the tree needs to be large so a 12-inch tree is ideal. We selected a Nordman Fir. Norman Firs, unlike the traditional Christmas tree Picea abies, have dark glossy green foliage and reduced needle drop which is why it is such a popular choice. A tip when putting up a Christmas tree is to saw off a disc of wood off the cut trunk, this allows the tree to uptake water from its stand. If it is kept watered, it will drastically extend its shelf life. Lights came next, then the bronze, silver and gold ball balls, no tinsel for the Fairlight tree!  Aside from the tree, a large number of flower displays needed to be constructed across the hall. Every fire place needs to have a Christmas flower display on top the all-important large flower display in a central vase in the main hall.

Christmas tree-silver and gold theme

This year we were very fortunate to have Hannah Whitham on the garden team. Hannah joined the garden team as a Wragg student and has become a core part of the team. Hannah’s past training in fine art and a keen eye for design and detail has helped us make the most stylish Christmas decorations yet, being shy of the camera I thought it was a must to include some of her floral creations in this blog. In addition to the tree and flower displays 50 feet of garlands must be constructed, up the grand staircase, this is where the glue guns, floristry wire and twine come in handy. The garlands can either be purchased premade or made from material found across the site, but spruce is a good sturdy and drought resistant option. The arch above the grand hall entrance and the dining table also needed attention. The result is some pretty impressive Christmas displays, that hopefully with the odd touch up and replacement here and there should last for the next month. I wonder what theme we will be given next year.

Dinning room fireplace topper

Central hall display

Garlands lit up in hall

Dining room decorations

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