Thursday, May 24, 2007

23 May Mill Arms, Dunbridge.
When it is all over, never let it be said that I lived a hum-drum existance. I was supposed to be back in Mali now, but instead I am nestling in the bosom of a bucolic idyll, deep in the buttercup and cow-parsley strewn fields of Hampshire, over which I walk every morning and evening on my way from the country inn to Mottisfont Abbey and my hay-loft above the stable building where the painting goes on.
Mottisfont Abbey itself, although ancient enough to be mentioned in the Domesday Book, is not the main attraction of this National Trust property. It is the gardens that draws the visitors here. The rose garden is the most complete and famous in the whole of England, established by a famous rosarian whose name escapes me - goodness I didn't even know there were such things!
The gardeners have kindly invited me to share the room in the stable block in which they have their tea breaks. It is strewn, predictably, with secateurs, gardening gloves, grass cuttings, gardening encyclopedias, wellies and bits of earth. The gardeners are a thoroughly delightful lot, clearly hugely proud of their work. There are five full time gardeners, two of whom are women. They actually talk about gardening and roses all the time! One had just been to Chelsea Flower Show- this was not approved of- too gimmicky. And there was a lot of vitriol for the gardening TV programmes, particularly for someone called Monty Don. (I didn't dare mention Charlie Dimmock) Oh, for the times of the likes of someone called Hamilton, seemed to be the concencus. He called a spade a spade and a rose a rose !
The main house has some attractions too- a large twentieth century art collection with paintings by people like Duncan Grant, Roger Fry and Cressida's granny (Vanessa Bell). Each room is guarded by an elderly volunteer, kindly, speaking in hushed tones and hugely reverential towards the heritage of the surroundings, as always in such properties.


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