Santa Claus is Coming to Town (again)

For the third year in a row I’ve had the pleasure of attending the launch of Otter Nurseries Christmas Grotto to take photos of the latest intake of Santa’s Little Helpers to use on social media.

The good old days

For me, long gone are the days of creeping around to deposit Christmas stockings on the beds of sleeping babes, and waking up early to help build Lego or Hot Wheel sets. Now Christmas is a time to pop open the Prosecco and try not to forget a crucial part of Christmas dinner (one year the stuffing, another the pigs in blankets, but sadly, never the sprouts). However, working with Otter Nurseries means I still get to have some real Christmas fun.

Christmas at Otter Nurseries

For the garden centre, Christmas starts early in the year, with buyers visiting Christmas shows in the UK and abroad. The Grotto arrives on my PR to-do list in July or August, as sales for tickets start in early SepChristmas decs as Santa Claus comes to towntember. There’s always a lot of excitement on social media when we announce ticket sales with lots of sharing going on. There are also always one or two grumps about it being way too early… you can’t please all the people all the time. My fave¬† grump this time round was someone who tweeted a photo of the ‘Suffragete’ movie which bore the legend ‘Perfect for Mother’s Day’ (left over from March, of course). The tweeter asked (with good humour) if we could get Christmas out of the way first, please.

The Christmas department opens at half term, and even I uttered a few ‘Oohs’ this year as the Christmas team had done such a superb job.

The GrottSanta Claus Magical Kingdomo launches in mid November. Once upon a time this meant Father Christmas arriving in a helicopter, but health and safety rules and regulations put the kybosh on that, and now it’s a far more subtle affair. It’s quite a thrill to watch it coming together, as the external shell is put up and the magical interior scenes are added.

On launch day, the bright, cheerful gang of Santa’s Helpers arrive – many are handpicked from Ottery St Mary’s secondary school, The Kings School. Some come year after year, and there are often youngsters from the same family on the team. And then of course there is Santa himself. I can’t say too much, obviously, but he’s very clever and knows a great deal about the children when they visit him. Santa Claus - his Little Helpers

This year the Grotto was visited by a blogger for the first time, which I arranged after an approach on Twitter. Stephanie Darkes of Exploring Exeter came on the launch day and wrote a lovely blog about her visit.

So there it is, Christmas has come to Otter Nurseries and Santa is on his way!

Otter Nurseries award winning jam

Jam-tastic

Otter Nurseries – not just plant experts

When I first moved to Devon nearly 20 years’ ago, I fell in love with Otter Nurseries garden centre in Ottery St Mary. My garden became crammed with flowers purchased there; some even featured in my homemade wedding bouquet.

Now one of my PR and social media clients, Otter Nurseries is a fascinating company to work for – there are many facets of the business (which has five branches) to learn about, such as environmental ethos (no chemicals are used in the growing nurseries), ongoing and generous support for many community initiatives and charities, free gardening advice and design… and jam.

Otter Nurseries jam is made in the kitchens of the garden centre restaurant, mainly by talented cook Liz Lee. I’ve bought several varieties over the years, including a scrumptious cranberry and orange at Christmas. It’s really so very good that this year two varieties of jam were entered into the Taste of the West Awards.

Fast forward several months, and I spotted on social media that the awards judging was taking place at Westpoint. I asked the Otter Nurseries marketing department how it was going. They were taken aback as they knew nothing of the judging and hadn’t sent any produce. After a few calls and emails it transpired that the entry had fallen through the net.

But all was not lost. The Taste of the West team exhorted me to take some jams to Westpoint – if I was in time they could still be judged. Cue mad dash to Otter Nurseries to collect some jars, cue equally mad dash to Westpoint to drop them off. I’d have asked for a police escort if I’d known.* Arriving at Westpoint I couldn’t see where to go – the front doors were locked and the back seemed shut up. I pounced on a man waiting in a car. He was, it transpired, a judge and pointed out the way in.

I was slightly breathless when I handed the jams over, but encouraged when the lady who took them said how nice it was to see some traditional jams being entered. No fancy ingredients in Otter Nurseries jam; no yak’s milk or pig’s blood… (makes a change).

Two weeks’ ago, an email arrived in the inbox from Taste of the West, and it was good news. The strawberry jam had received a Highly Commended but the fabulous raspberry jam attained a coveted Gold Award.

What else was there for it, but yet another mad dash to Otter Nurseries, this time to take a photograph of the talented Liz Lee and her (now) award winning jams so I could spread the word (no pun intended) to the papers and via social media. You can read about it here and I’m looking forward to seeing more coverage, in our local magazines and regional press. Jammy, or what?

TOTWAwards_2016_Gold*Please note, no speed limits were broken in the making of this dramatic scene.