Favourite Things: Christmas all year round for garden centre’s Helen

Helen Watson, Ferndale Garden Centre director and head of retail and catering, with some of the centre's Christmas decorations.
Helen Watson, Ferndale Garden Centre director and head of retail and catering, with some of the centre's Christmas decorations.

Helen Watson is head of retail and catering at Ferndale Garden Centre, Coal Aston. This is Helen’s 30th year of setting up Christmas displays at the popular garden centre her parents bought in 1982.

Back then, their Christmas department was two trestle tables of tinsel and baubles and one tree. Nowadays, Helen sources seven themes from traditional to contemporary. On January 2 Helen will have just returned from Dusseldorf where she has made her main orders for Christmas 2015. Stock arrives from summer, and by late October the total transformation has taken place into a winter wonderland. Helen was born in Sheffield, went to Jordanthorpe school and grew up in Bradway on her parents’ plant nursery. She lives near Ferndale with husband Richard and has three grown-up children. She loves her family, riding – and Christmas, of course.


I loved growing up in Bradway on the nursery site where my extended family lived up the road. Such happy memories of the honesty box for the tomatoes and cucumbers, dad’s friends always coming round to his workshop, drinking endless mugs of tea.

Sundays together spent watching my son playing football. We have been all the way to Derby at times and they still never won! Horses were a big part of my life – going to the Hallamshire Show, at the Barlow Hunt – Mum would always follow me back with her headlights on to light my way – now the kids are chauffeured everywhere with horse boxes (including my daughter).

Christmas at home

I love Christmas and the build-up to it, because it’s such a special time. For me, Christmas is the time to embrace being with family and spending some special time with each other’s company. The house will be full, along with having a traditional Christmas dinner and playing games with each other.

Virgin Active, Millhouses

I’m a gym bunny. I love to train four or five times a week, doing everything from punch to spinning. Because I live so close to the garden centre, I feel I haven’t finished my working day until I come home from my body pump workout at 6pm, followed by a bath with a glass of gin and tonic, three perfect de-stressers!

Local Produce

As retail and catering director at Ferndale, I love sourcing special local producers. Recently we introduced an annual food fair which promoted everything from delicious local preserves and pies to treats and teas. We work with outstanding producers like Birdhouse Tea Company, Moss Valley Fine Meat, Sloe Motion gin, Hedgerow preserves and Sheffield Honey. Liberty Farm are famous for their pork pies and we had sold out 85 by 2.30 pm on the first day of our September food Fair. Our café made and sold 100 scones before they got so busy they had to stop.

Mam Tor

What could be better than getting the train from Dore station to Edale with a group of friends and walking up to Mam Tor? This was my choice to celebrate my 50th birthday this year and it was truly beautiful. There was so much to see and then we walked down for a lovely lunch at the pub next to the station.

Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley

It has a welcoming contemporary décor contrasting with the old pub, lovely food and atmosphere, plus all local produce. Owner Jill and her team are passionate people who give a warm welcome. I can still remember my recent Moss Valley pork dish, so beautifully presented it was a feast for the eyes and tastebuds!


I love a bit of retail therapy when I have the time, mooching around Meadowhall when I need to go to places like Zara or Karen Millen. I do like to buy local though, so pop into Rio on Sharrowvale Road or Blanc in Chesterfield where the owner Anne Marie really looks after me and stocks Desigual, which I love! I’ve just discovered local dressmaker Deborah at a charity event at Whirlowbrook Hall. I admired her dress and now she has made me three fabulous dresses from her base at Moonlight in Gleadless.


And relax! The Peak District, Linacre Woods and taking the dogs (two Jack Russells Ethel and Florence, who are mad as hatters, Oscar the cat rules them both) to Toad’s Mouth car park to look over Hathersage with my husband and daughters. When Ella comes back from Manchester, we walk, sit in front of the log fire, drink gin and tonics, read books and talk with each other. Because I work on Sundays, we enjoy having a big Sunday tea with a meat and potato pie. I’ll certainly need some chilling after Christmas!