Saturday, 5 June 2010

A great British day out

It's a glorious day and people are flooding through the gates. A cavalcade of MG motor cars sashays down the driveway, risking their undercarriages on the speed bumps. They line up in beautiful British formation, the sun glinting on the gleaming paintwork and chrome.

The hens babble and old people chuckle at their antics. A middle-aged woman as large as Devon is terrified by the bantams who are not too keen on her either. The Indian Runner ducks quack and the sounds from the cafe are of people enjoying a day out in the English countryside on a beautiful day in early summer.

There is a fluttering of dove wings on the stone roof of the old sawmill. They are momentarily startled by a man in shorts who walks by. He has not just knobbly knees but knobbly legs as well. Two girls in outfits too skimpy for their ample frames ask for two adult tickets.

A few minutes earlier, I had arrived to open up and found a queue of visitors, with his Lordship behind the counter,  a bemused expression on his face.

'Ah, there you are,' he says, flustered. 'I'll let you take over.'

I am into my stride today, not at all nervous when yet another car rolls up. I am confident, too, with the till and it no longer fills me with dread.

At the end of the day, 160 visitors and I can go home and put my feet up.

I'll keep you posted.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 17 May 2010

The real world beckons

The wisteria is just about to explode on the coach house wall. A burst of heavenly blue against mellow, golden stone and porticoes.

I am sad today at Mapperton, There is a fine rain falling and the trees above the shop where I work deposit loud drips on the corrugated iron roof. Apart from the occasional Sunday, my sojourn here is coming to an end, after being offered a job I just could not refuse. Sadly, my talents as the Gertrude Jekyll of West Dorset have not been recognised and it's back to an office job for me, at least for the time being.

However, I shall still be writing my Manor from Heaven blog, with the help of bulletins from Her Ladyship and chats with the head gardener. And I intend stopping by with my camera every now and then to record the joys on display in these beautiful gardens.

I'll keep you posted.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Trouble in the henhouse

A plaintive cry goes up from the courtyard, and then the sound of poultry, fighting.

A bantam hen shoots out of the manor gate and hides among the plants for sale. A pair of fat and fluffy bantam cockerels are on the prowl.

'They're desperate for mates of their own, ' says her Ladyship. 'They're both totally frustrated. We could do with someone donating them some girlfriends.'

They try chasing the phoenix jungle fowl into submission but the girls' own cockerel bodyguards are having none of it. A stand-off ensues. Even the Indian runner ducks join in and start name calling.

The white bantam boys slope off to a bench. Then they head through the gates to the churchyard.

Something's gotta give.

I'll keep you posted.

Maddie x

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Monsters, trolls and RHS members

It is spring at Mapperton. The house martins dart in and out of cool passageways, smoke curls up from a bonfire and the handyman is mowing the lawn.

A customer questionnaire has been introduced this week and I shall make it my mission to get as many people to fill it in as possible.

There are lots of RHS members in today which means they don't have to pay - RHS stands for Royal Horticultural Society and if you're a member, it gives you free access to lots of great gardens. Then we have a a lady in a disabled buggy, a set of keys handed in, my apple from last week still on the counter and a spot of rearranging the merchandise, making sure all the teacup handles are pointing the same way.

Flustered by a sudden rush, I give someone too much change and then another moment of panic when I think someone has walked off with the church key and then I realise they're still in there.

The bantams have a fight on the roof, the plants need watering and a woman with a very strange hairstyle - like Marge Simpson's, only black with gold streaks - comes in. I can't take my eyes off it, thinking what a great place for a house martin to nest and then worry my fascinated gaze might be reflected in how she fills in the questionnaire when she gets to the bit about staff.

Two small children scoot around on little wooden bikes and then two girls dressed as fairies tear around chasing a chicken. It seeks sanctuary in my shop but they still come after it. I tell them off and then pretend there is a monster in behind the counter with me just so they get the message.

They roar off, screams bouncing off the golden stone walls, and their mother comes charging in. A rather large lady, she looks as if she could handle herself in a fight. So I make myself look small and pathetic.

'If my children come in again,' she says in a posh voice, while I inwardly quake, 'you have my permission to order them out. Just tell them you turn into a troll when you get angry.'

She knows me, obviously.

Later, a pretty but fragile-looking young woman in a sunhat glides in like something from a Jane Austen novel.

'Do you have the church key?' she asks.

'Only I'd like to have a sit down in the quiet. There are some terribly noisy children running all over the Italian garden.'

I'll keep you posted.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 22 April 2010

A hit as Mapperton reaches the top ten

I hardly have chance to draw breath this morning as I open up the Pot Shop doors at Mapperton. People are already getting out of their cars, clutching their admission fee and copies of the Mail's Live magazine.

We have been featured in Clive Aslet's list of top ten great gardens and we're at number four: 'Hidden away in its Dorset combe, Mapperton is a dream of England at its loveliest...handsome, yes, but not overwhelming...Daffodils dance on the banks, and the backdrop is of fields where cattle and sheep can safely graze. Perfection.'

My thoughts entirely. So, as the world and his wife descend on Mapperton, with 70 guests by four o'clock, I have no time for lunch and only a quick visit to the lavatory.

Lord Sandwich towers above a party of ladies as he takes the group on a tour of the house. A steady stream of visitors to the shop buy plants, Ulster Weavers aprons and pretty notebooks. People sit outside the cafe, enjoying the sun and a cream tea.

By 4.30pm, even the bantams have had enough, going to bed early and settling down to roost in the old yew tree next to the church.

It's been a busy day and I'm pooped. But I managed to get the till to balance this week. Think I'll reward myself with supper in my local pub.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Gone with the wind

Back behind the Mapperton till, I manage to overcharge someone for two teenagers. Granny challenges me with a glare and I instantly apologise and appeal for sympathy by claiming it's my first day. She smiles, pats me on the arm and then I immediately feel guilty for telling fibs.

It is overcast with a chilly wind. It is also very noisy. The oil tanker is making a delivery and the lorry engine is running right outside my shop. The handyman is mowing the lawn with a great big machine. With his woolly hat and ear defenders, he looks like a Russian tank operator.

The phoenix jungle fowl mutter, the cockerel shrieks and an Indian runner duck rushes by like a tall person late for a train. The bantams yell in unison when a large and breathless dog tries to break free from its lead and then an old man with a trilby hat walks up to the shop and breaks wind loudly before venturing in. A car alarm goes off in retaliation.

I pick up a note I was left after last week, telling me two things I got wrong. But, like all the best tickings off, it ends in praise: 'Well done with the till total.'

Not only was it a decent sum, it actually tallied with the takings.

I'll keep you posted.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Round and round the garden

I entered Mapperton Gardens as a visitor this week, accompanied by my little helper.

I was armed with my camera. But she saw things through different eyes with a pair of binoculars.

These are some of the things we found:

The north wing.

The orangery.

An ancient urn.

Sunny steps.

Snake's head fritillary.

Hellebores under the pergola.

Stern-looking fish.

A blossom-strewn path.

Textures and colours.

And, finally, thank goodness for binoculars used the wrong way round. My little helper would never have spotted it otherwise.

I'll keep you posted.

Love Maddie x