Meet Mrs Christmas!
Helen Watson absolutely loves the festive season and, as director of a garden centre, it’s a very good thing she does. While most of us groan when the decorations begin popping up in the shops in October, Helen’s Christmas lasts an incredible eight months of the year.
“I spend my life covered in glitter - and I love it,” smiles Helen as she indicates the pretty twinkling showroom that is her second home.
“Christmas kicks off in July for me, when the decorations arrive to be priced up, and doesn’t end until the buying is finished the following spring.
“Mentally, Christmas 2015 is already in the bag, I’m off to Germany in three weeks on my first buying trip for Christmas 2016!”
Ferndale Garden Centre’s Christmas display is one of the biggest in the region and there is a very important concept at the core of it.
“Inspiration,” Helen says simply.
“We’re not just here to sell, we want people to walk in and feel inspired. We put a lot of time and effort into, not only showing our customers what they can buy, but also just what they can do with it.”
And according to Helen, the first step to getting your home ready for Christmas, is deciding what kind of Christmas you want to have,
“There are so many different themes,” explains Helen, aged 51.
“The luxury range is very on-trend this year - filled with fur, hints of copper and reindeers with illuminated antlers.
“There’s the woodland look - very Norweigan, owls and robins.
“But our most popular theme is always the traditional reds, greens and golds we all know and love.
“People have already been buying for weeks, but our job is to make sure there’s still a great selection left two weeks before Christmas, so people can hurry in last minute.”
Helen’s family launched Ferndale Garden Centre in 1982.
“Family businesses aren’t easy,” she says.
“It’s a lot of hard work; at this time of year especially it’s 12 hour days, seven days a week. Decorating up this year took three weeks and most days started at 6.30am with me up a ladder, but I’m very committed to getting it right for our customers.”
Since Helen’s parents retired, she runs the business along with her sister Linda and brother-in-law Neil - and she’s staggered by the way the business has grown in recent years. The kitchen, coffee shop and showroom have all been expanded and the company now employs over 50 people in order to keep it running.
But surely, the demands of organising two years’ worth of Christmas at once, can’t leave a lot of time for a personal season of joy?
“My home decorating quite honestly depends on how shattered I am,” laughs Helen.
“But I always try to put my decorations up on the first weekend in December - and I really enjoy it.
I put a bit of Buble on the stereo, a gin and tonic in my hand, it’s something to be relished.”
And just like everything else, Christmas in Helen’s house is bigger and better than most, with a huge family gathering consisting of traditional parlour games and, in her words, “a bit too much to drink for everyone.”
“Last year I had 22 people sitting around my Christmas table,” she says.
“I never understand when people say they don’t like Christmas - it’s a time for family - what’s not to love about that?”
Helen has a son, two daughters and two step-daughters and says that holidays like Christmas are a good excuse to spend lots of time together, although she reveals this year will be a little different.
“We lost my mum-in-law in July and my dad in August this year, which has hit us all hard,” she says.
“So I expect this year to have its challenges, but we’ll do it, shed a few tears and raise a glass all together, that’s what it’s all about.”
There’s a lot to do before Helen can even think about her own Christmas.
She says: “I always have that blip of doubt when I look around the showroom, when the decorations are all unveiled at the end of October, and I think ‘will we really sell it all?’ but we always do.” In fact, the Dronfield centre is already selling out of some of its most popular items, which Helen says puts them to the head of the queue for next year’s order.
“The best sellers so far this year have been our collection of LED pictures, candle bridges and battery operated lanterns. They are the little things that really make a house a home.”
Come January, all of the festive stock must go to make way for the new lines.
Ferndale has plenty planned throughout December, with festive tastings and a Christmas coffee shop menu.
Father Christmas will also be visiting every weekend throughout December to meet the kids.