Best of Bri­tish

Meet the mistle­toe farmer who is grow­ing our Christ­mas cheer

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

Life on a Here­ford­shire mistle­toe farm

ON A DARK De­cem­ber af­ter­noon, Peta Darn­ley heads out into the cider-ap­ple or­chards of Nether­wood Es­tate in Here­ford­shire to cut back the mistle­toe. ‘If we know that there’s go­ing to be a big frost that night, we’ll pick it and store it in the barn for sort­ing the next morn­ing.’

The es­tate had been in her hus­band Ivo’s fam­ily for 40 years, but when her fa­ther-in-law re­tired in 2009, Darn­ley took over, leav­ing be­hind her ca­reer in advertising and mar­ket­ing (most re­cently at the BBC) and mov­ing from Lon­don to the es­tate with Ivo and their three sons, Harry, now 19, Ed, 15, and Al, 14.

Darn­ley, who is now 50, grew up on a farm in Devon, but left when she went to univer­sity and never imag­ined she’d live on one again. ‘My fa­ther thinks it’s hi­lar­i­ous that, like so many peo­ple grow­ing up in the coun­try, I went off to have a glam­orous city life. I knew that farm­ing was very hard work so al­ways swore that I would never marry a farmer. It never oc­curred to me that I’d end up be­com­ing one my­self.’

The es­tate cov­ers 12,000 acres and along with mistle­toe, Darn­ley grows cider ap­ples, quinces, med­lars, mul­ber­ries and walnuts, and keeps cat­tle and sheep. She also rents out hol­i­day homes and plans to open a restau­rant in Jan­uary. ‘We will be cold-press­ing our own rape­seed oil and try milling flour.’

How­ever, the mistle­toe is her star prod­uct. It grows in abun­dance in the re­gion due to the rainy con­di­tions, and there is even an an­nual mistle­toe fes­ti­val in nearby Ten­bury.

On the es­tate it grows all year round, bloom­ing in April, but the dis­tinc­tive white berries only form in win­ter. ‘It’s ac­tu­ally par­a­sitic, so we have to re­move it from the host trees – the cider ap­ples – or it will kill them,’ ex­plains Darn­ley.

She be­gan sell­ing mistle­toe three years ago. Back then she sold 50 bunches. This year, she es­ti­mates she will sell 450 of them (priced from £45).

Darn­ley’s three sons, as well as a gar­dener, all pitch in when it comes to chop­ping it down. The har­vested mistle­toe is shaped like a ball, roughly three feet in di­am­e­ter. ‘We send it off as a big bunch and peo­ple can ei­ther cut it up into smaller bits or keep it as huge bunches and hang it in their hall.’

Darn­ley fills her own home with it too. ‘I love it be­cause it’s as much a part of the fes­tive tra­di­tion as hang­ing up your stock­ing on Christ­mas Eve,’ she says. ‘For me, it wouldn’t be Christ­mas with­out mistle­toe.’ nether­wood­estate.co.uk/mistle­toe/

Above The mistle­toe crop is shaped like a ball. Right Peta Darn­ley on her farm in Here­ford­shire. In­ter­view by Jes­sica Carpani. Pho­to­graphs by Pho­topia

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