Monday, 30 November -0001

Having a berry old time

Christmas isn't complete without holly and mistletoe. But how does this colourful British crop get to our home in time for the big day?

Written by Matt Warren
They are key Christmas ingredients, as essential as mince pies and the Queen’s Speech. And these colourful images show how Britain’s holly and mistletoe crops are harvested and sold. Eighty-two-yearold Peter Boardman (overleaf) is one of the UK’s holly farmers, growing the crop at How Hill Farm in Norfolk. Started by his late father, the holly farm now produces over 100 varieties and Peter sells them around the country, including in Covent Garden, just around the corner from The Lady’s London office.

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It is not always easy growing the crop in the UK and, thanks to unfavourable weather, the 2013 harvest was particularly poor. Things have been looking up this year, however, and the berries are plump and ripe.

Today, mistletoe is associated with cheeky Christmas kisses, but ancient Celtic druids, who harvested it with a golden sickle, valued it for its magical properties. They used it in the mysterious ritual of oak and mistletoe, described by Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.

‘They believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren and that it is an antidote to all poisons,’ Pliny wrote in his Natural History.

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Mistletoe is certainly a remarkable plant. Rather than growing in the ground, it is a parasite, taking its nutrients from a host tree by penetrating its branches. Particularly famous for its mistletoe is the town of Tenbury Wells, on the borders of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. It has been England’s ‘traditional mistletoe capital’ for over 150 years.

The Tenbury Wells mistletoe and holly auctions take place annually in late November and early December. Here, the crop is blessed by a druid before being sold to bidders from around the country.


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