The garden that’s celebrating 21 years of decorating its trees for Christmas

Twenty one years ago staff at Wakehurst Place, the country estate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near Haywards Heath, came up with the suggestion of lighting up one of the trees in the garden for Christmas.

The bright idea took off in a big way and since then the Wakehurst Christmas tree has gone on to become a popular festive feature of the local landscape

Back in 1991 the first tree decorated was 30ft tall. It proved such a talking point that staff became more ambitious and later moved on to light a giant redwood tree, close to the sixteenth century Wakehurst mansion

The giant redwood now stands a towering 118ft (35 metres) high and is the largest Christmas tree in England. The tree is the centrepiece of Christmas festivities at Wakehurst and can be seen from miles around when it is lit up.

Decorating the tree with 1,800 Christmas lights is a day-long operation for expert tree climbers from Wakehurst’s conservation and woodland team, using ropes, specialist climbing gear and two high level platforms.

Rigging up the lights begins at first light and continues until dusk when there is a tense moment familiar to everyone decorating their tree at home – testing the lights to make sure they work.

People can enjoy the spectacle of the lights being officially turned on at the Big Switch On ceremony on Saturday December 1 at 6.15pm.

As part of the countdown to the switch on, a choir will be singing around the tree and there will be Christmas craft activities for children in Wakehurst’s Elizabethan mansion.

Iain Parkinson, Wakehurst’s Conservation and Woodland manager, said: “Christmas at Wakehurst just wouldn’t be Christmas without the giant tree – when we first lit a tree here 21 years ago, we never expected it would become so popular.

“Over the years it has become part of many people’s Christmas traditions, they come along to enjoy a winter walk in the gardens and see the tree lit up, and we are looking forward to welcoming regular and new visitors back again this year.”