Mistletoe and Holly Christmas Auctions
If you are planning a traditional Victorian style Christmas with the halls decked with holly and a bunch of mistletoe above the front door you should make haste to Tenbury Wells tomorrow and the following two Tuesdays.
‘We will be selling more than 600 lots of mistletoe,’ says auctioneer Nick Champion who is continuing a Victorian tradition which started some 160 years ago. He organises three auctions on consecutive Tuesdays at the end of November and early December, soley devoted to vast quantities of holly branches and wreaths and mistletoe. ‘Tenbury, a town on the Shropshire Worcestershire border is known as the mistletoe capital’ he claims.
A parasitic plant, mistletoe is traditionally found growing on the boughs of ancient gnarled apple trees in old orchards. Modern farmers don’t want mistletoe weakening their trees. Birds devour the sticky berries but often the berries get stuck to their beaks. A bird thus afflicted will then rub it’s beak against a tree so creating a host.
Worcestershire has long been an area renowned for growing fruit and hops. Queen Victoria dubbed Tenbury ‘the little town in the orchard,’ says Nick.
Kent is also an area long associated with farming hops and fruit but its drier climate and the chalky North Downs are not as conducive to mistletoe as the wetter weather of Worcestershire.
Nick stipulates strict criteria for potential sellers of mistletoe: ‘It should be white berried with dark green leaves and not too much wood, to be tied in round bundles or wraps of 10 to 15kg. Whole balls of mistletoe if circular and well berried are also saleable. Very prickly or rough cut holly is not usually saleable.’
The Druids imbued mistletoe with mystical powers, hanging it over their doors to ward off evil spirits. It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse Mythology, hence the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. Victorian poetry abounds with references to mistletoe.
The auctions took place in the town’s cattle market since the mid-19th-century.Now they are in the grounds of an elegant 18th-century house at Burford Garden Centre, just outside Tenbury. Sadly demand for holly and mistletoe is gradually declining. Golden and silver variegated holly without berries are the most popular. ‘We have the same number of buyers but they don’t buy in the quantities that they used to.’ In 2016, 2845 wreaths of holly were snapped up. Nick attributes this to the supermarkets’ dominance of the cut flower industry. ‘We used to sell loads and loads of holly.’ The auctions attract a wide range of buyers, from florists to garden centres to market traders to individuals.
If you want a Christmas kiss, rush along to Burford House Garden Store, Burford Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire Wr15 8HQ
Wreaths at 10am followed by holly and mistletoe at 11am.