Thumbs Up for Mairi

The little sculpture by Margaret Wrightson of Lady Mairi as a child is a popular attraction for shutterbugs in the Mairi Garden. Before this area was cultivated and completed in 1925, Lady Mairi’s pram was parked in this area for her snooze in the fresh air. Now her image sits atop a fountain on a seat of cockle shells from which cascades water into the pool below. Visitors like to make a wish and throw pennies into the pool, where ‘Mairi, Mairi, Quite Contrary’, is written around the retaining wall. This line was adapted from the familiar nursery rhyme, one of a number of ancient verses published in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book in 1744, the year Mount Stewart was purchased by Alexander Stewart.

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Approached by one of several flagged paths you can see that the garden is in the shape of a Tudor Rose, a reference to the Women’s Legion, founded by Lady Mairi’s mother, Lady Edith during the Great War. Planting is mainly blue and white, perhaps a nod to the blue and silver chequered counter on the family coat of arms, a hangover from when the name Steward meant you looked after the affairs of an estate.

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Plants and shrubs include magnolias from Japan, abutilon from Chile, the Ribbon Gum, necessary to the diet of koala bears in Australia, and pittosporum beloved of flower arrangers everywhere. Our Fuchsia excorticata, from New Zealand, is popular with Polynesian ladies who use the blue pollen as eyeshadow. Its flowers are greenish when ready for visiting birds, but after they have been pollinated, they turn red to tell birds to stop coming. How wonderful is that? The pungent odour of eucalyptus trees grown from seeds brought back from southern Africa by Theresa, wife of the 6th Marquess, in 1894, a tall monkey puzzle and vines contribute to the exotic feel of a secret retreat and a sheltered sunshiney corner to sit and contemplate the scene.

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You might choose the bench that commemorates Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the year we opened the mansion house to visitors, or venture into the coolness of the little summerhouse designed by Lady Margaret Stewart. During Lady Edith’s open days and garden parties, a fortune-teller would sit here and read your palm.

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This lovely little building has a dovecote on top and is mentioned in Lady Edith’s book, ‘The Magic Inkpot’, when Lady Helen is gathering her pigeons together to go to market. In olden days dovecotes were a sort of larder. If you wanted to impress visitors your cook could go out and catch a squab or two for a pie. In addition to being symbols of peace, in Roman times the pigeon was used to carry results of sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, and, as well as being symbols of peace, this is why white doves are included in the opening ceremony. Keep an eye out for them in Rio de Janeiro next week.

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John, on the left, is one of the volunteers we have to thank for keeping things in order in the Mairi Garden. He is the one man Thursday Gang and happy in his work as you can see from the big smile on his face. On days off he likes nothing better than a busman’s trip to other gardens.

On the right we have the Wednesday Twosome, Trevor, who patiently answers my queries, and Newbie Volunteer Pete who is brushing up on his gardening knowledge. A fantastic team who obviously enjoy keeping those pretty maids all in a row.

Ellen

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