Sunday, 10 February 2013

on the tourist trail

Sometimes with weather you lose on the swings what you gained on the proverbial roundabouts.  Today was about as uninviting for walking around outside or at best in an unheated plastic tunnel as you can imagine, short of actually snowing.  It rained all day, up to the point where it started sleeting instead, it was windy, it felt cold, and the grey, leaden, sunless sky would have made the entire contents of Kew Gardens look drab.

It left me in a bit of a fix about what to do with myself.  I'd finished my jobs on the manager's list of tasks for the weekend, and there weren't any weedy pots of herbaceous plants I could take into the little greenhouse or the back of the shop and tidy up.  The first job on the list was to water anything that looked dry.  I checked the conifers and large specimen evergreens yesterday, so today I patrolled conscientiously up and down inside the tunnels, pouring water into any dry-looking pots from a plastic Haws watering can.  Even the plastic ones are better balanced than any other can on the market.

There is a limit to how long you want to spend trudging backwards and forwards in the rain with a can of water, getting another lungful of exhaust fumes from the boiler each time you refill it at the tap, and after an hour I thought I'd probably reached it.  I went over to the tunnel on The Other Side to see if I could bring out any more potted bulbs for sale, but the individual pots didn't have price labels, so I couldn't.

Then I thought I could check the e-mails, and deal with any that were straightforward queries about whether we had a particular plant in stock, but the internet connection to the shop wasn't working.  I spent some time searching for Lindera benzoin, since the year end stock take showed we had three in stock, and we have three customers waiting for them, two of the enquiries dating from such a long time ago that they have probably changed their minds, or forgotten all about it, or emigrated or died in the meantime.  I couldn't find the Lindera.

After that I gave up trying to find anything useful to do, and read Hilliers dictionary of shrubs while waiting for a customer to arrive, or the phone to ring.  There is always something new to learn in Hilliers, and I focussed on improving my knowledge of hydrangeas.  The owner came out to the shop to get the cafe ready for a coach party of Germans which was expected in the afternoon, and I did not have the heart to pretend to be doing anything except reading a book about shrubs.

She was accompanied by the young dog, which after it had finished making friends with the only three people having coffee in the cafe was happy to have its tummy rubbed for five minutes.  It is a nice little dog, with a very fine beard and eyebrows, and enjoys being fussed over.  On the negative side of the equation, it will roll in anything vile-smelling that it can find, and absconds whenever it feels like it.

The coach load of Germans arrived slightly late, and chaos ensued as to whether they were going to have a guided tour around the garden as originally booked, or not go round the garden because the weather was too bad, or those that wanted to go round by themselves, or nobody be allowed to go round unaccompanied because the garden was so wet and slippery.  The tour had been rearranged twice, having originally been booked in for Friday, then moved to this morning, then moved again to this afternoon, and the owners, having rearranged their weekend to accommodate them, while scrupulously polite to the tour leader were understandably irritated at the idea of the gate money for the garden evaporating.

Not going round the garden maybe worked for the best, since the tourists spent a lot in the plant centre and the shop.  I dutifully went and spent half an hour standing outside in the rain and smiling at them with an expression intended to convey that I was ready to help.  One person asked me where was Euonymus planipes, which goes to show the value of botanical Latin plant names.  I don't speak German, but I knew exactly what she was talking about, whereas the German equivalent of a common name like big budded spindle would have passed me by completely.  Apart from the Euonymus the only thing anyone else wanted to know was the whereabouts of was the loo, and after a while I went back inside to help with the tills, where there was a queue.

Into the middle of the chaos appeared a customer who was nothing to do with the tour, asking for help choosing trees and saying slightly plaintively that there was no-one outside to ask.  I thought the presence of a German tour bus in the car park and a large number of Germans in the plant centre and shop might have given her a clue what was going on.  We went and looked at trees and shrubs, and she proved to be not as difficult as I thought at first she might be.  It is so tricky having the right number of staff on duty in a business like ours.  There were two of us today, and in the morning we had almost nothing to do while in the afternoon we were rushed of our feet.  Yesterday there were three of us in, and more than enough for us to do, but it was a nice day.  At least with tour buses you know when they are coming, but you don't know what the weather's going to be like on a given day at the point where you set the rota.

When I got home I realised I'd forgotten to shut the tunnel doors on The Other Side, which was a bad mistake to make, since rabbits are liable to create havoc in there overnight.  I rang the owner to confess and ask if she could close the doors.  Fortunately she sounded quite relaxed about it.  In my defence, I never got a tea break in all the rush, and by the time I left it was sleeting.  Tomorrow we might be potting, if we aren't all snowed in, though I don't think we will be here.

No comments:

Post a Comment