Christmas is packed with glorious traditions. Who doesn’t remember the first time they saw The Nutcracker and marveled at the magical designs of the sets and movements of the dancers? It’s a feast for the senses, with untold hours of thoughtful intention going into the presentation. Springdale Hall Club, the stately winter residential club in historic Camden, takes special delight in the holiday decorations that serve as the backdrop to so many memorable moments. Like annual productions of the beloved holiday ballet, the set at Springdale changes by tender nuances every year to keep it fresh and engaging.
“For many of our families, spending Christmas at Springdale Hall is an annual tradition,” says General Manager Richter Elser. Open from mid-October to mid-May, the private retreat first opened on Dec. 10, 1950, for sport-loving members to enjoy its winter cottages and clubhouse for occasions distinguished by traditional Southern food and hospitality. It is a spectacular setting for receptions and special events.
Springdale Hall’s original charter members loved Camden in particular because it is a hub for steeplechase and other equestrian events, golf, polo, and hunting. In fact, the club’s 14 guest cottages are all named for famous Camden-area racehorses. Springdale Hall has roots in the Camden Country Club, which was founded in 1903. Accordingly, guests at Springdale enjoy privileges at the Camden Country Club’s sprawling 18-hole Donald Ross-designed course, which is visible from the expansive clubhouse porch.
The time-honored tradition of the Christmas Day hunt is still very much alive in Camden, and the city holds a Christmas Day Fox Hunt every year. At some point during the year, they also hold a Blessing of the Hounds. Hunting is not offered on the retreat’s property, however.
“The only hunt that takes place on our property is an Easter Egg Hunt in the spring,” Richter says. “We hide between 600 and 1,000 eggs!”
Even the global pandemic could not deter members from making holiday memories at Springdale Hall. It stays booked the entire season. “Under normal conditions, we are always full,” Richter says. “And during COVID, we cut back significantly and that just complicated matters.”
One reason for that, no doubt, is the club’s elegant dining room, which is extremely popular among members. The menu changes according to what is fresh, what is in season, or whatever captivates the chef.
“One of the interesting things about Springdale Hall is that our menus change every day. That can make it a challenge for the kitchen staff, but I have a very talented executive chef and sous chef. They do a very good job of creating a wide range of cuisine,” he says. “We do try to support as many South Carolina and North Carolina growers as possible, and we work with several local farms as well.”
Richter and his staff take pains to make Springdale Hall as authentic and reminiscent of traditional Southern Christmases as possible, and he regularly brings in outside talent to pull it off. For more than a decade, he has called on Susan Shaw of Flowers Naturally to design the floral displays and decorations that grace the interiors. One signature feature is the clubhouse’s enchanting door wreath, always assembled with fresh, natural flora and always unique.
“I am florally challenged,” he says, “and Susan provides all our indoor flower arrangements.”
Christmas decorations are installed at Springdale Hall the week after Thanksgiving and remain in place until Jan. 6. Something special is always prepared for the members who spend Christmas at the club.
“We always have a children’s visit with Santa,” Richter says. “They get their photos taken, and our pastry chef puts together a batch of plain sugar cookies with icing kits so the kids can ice their own sugar cookies.”
Susan Shaw takes much inspiration for her organic floral designs directly from nature itself. She lives in a wooded area where she walks often, marveling at the beauty that surrounds her.
“Sometimes I will just see something in the woods and cut it and use it in a display,” she says. “It just falls into place. I have always used cut greenery from the yard. It makes arrangements so much prettier and interesting. It’s God-given. Why not use it? It’s beautiful. It connects you to nature.”
In addition to her work at Springdale Hall, Susan serves private customers for whom she creates magical floral environments for weddings, parties, and other soirees. Some of her favorite plants with which to design include orchids, amaryllis, tupelo, purple obsidian or coral bells, and even hydrangeas. She teams everything with fresh-cut greenery.
“Tupelos are nice and fragrant,” she says. “I use amaryllis a lot. I like to put them in Champagne buckets. Sometimes I will design with nothing but hydrangeas in every color. Dried, they turn a kind of green and plum color.”
Susan enjoys changing things up to keep her arrangements fresh and fun. If she ever feels creatively stuck, she keeps a library of old magazines from which she can draw ideas. She scans the pages for interesting colors, shapes, and flower choices. Recipe pages with food photography are particularly interesting because of the flora used in their presentation. She also notes how arrangements are displayed on furniture, whether the furniture is round or square or rectangular, and how those shapes impact the overall presentation. Then she adapts the ideas and gives them new context and energy.
“What I do really depends on where I am setting it up, the location, and the light,” she says. “Sometimes I like to use a big silver bowl and fill it with orchids or sometimes twigs or curly willows.”
In the South, the possibilities are vast. A holiday decorating favorite is the magnolia, the branches and leaves of which are abundant and splendorous, adding sophistication and beauty to mantels, stair rails, and displays.
While many people associate poinsettias solely with Christmas, poinsettias are actually perennials that can be preserved and enjoyed long after the holidays. They are easy to find at that time and make great party gifts that can keep on giving. Originally a tropical plant, poinsettias require lots of sunlight. They can be repotted into larger vessels and brought outside in the summer. They can grow thick and lush and uniformly green. A large potted poinsettia actually looks lovely outside by the pool. But that is a story for another season.
Regardless of what one harvests from the bounty of the outdoors, products are available that can help lengthen the life of indoor arrangements. Commercially available antitranspirant sprays can be applied to arrangements to hold in moisture and slow drying. As Susan says, specially formulated floral spray paints that come in many colors can be applied discerningly to enhance the color of an arrangement.
One decorating trend that was popular during Colonial times included fruits, berries, and nuts. Susan enjoys incorporating those into some of her designs when it is practical. She once used pears, brightening them up with a touch of gold glitter, for a magnificent effect.
The Tug of Yesteryear
Springdale Hall Club is a private institution with resident and non-resident members who hail from across the country and some overseas. Admittance is by invitation only.
The late South Carolina Poet Laureate Archibald Rutledge wrote lovingly of Southern Christmas Day hunts and other festivities on the plantation. The pleasantly nostalgic tug of yesteryear is a cornerstone of Southern Christmas traditions, and it is evident in this excerpt describing the return from the Christmas Day hunt from Rutledge’s writings:
To the ancient home we return, to the patriarch live-oaks watching before it, to the red roses, to the yellow jasmine; and within, to the ruddy fires, the rooms festooned with fragrant greenery. As we enter the dining room, almost everyone begins to smile in a most understanding fashion; for on either side of the huge bunch of mistletoe in the center of the table are two decanters — and they are full! …
It has been a glorious day. I wander out now on the front porch. The risen moon is casting a silvery glamour over the world. Certain great stars blaze in the velvet void of heaven. … Over the old plantation the serenity of joyous peace descends — the peace of human hearts at Christmas time. Beauty and love and home — these are of peace, these make that peace on earth that Christmas in the heart alone can bring.
A century later, the same could be said of the wide terrace views at Springdale Hall Club during Yuletide.