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Staff Profile - Cindy Maddison - Jungle Supervisor

I moved to Cornwall aged 11 and very soon discovered the very lost jungle at Heligan. As a child I would explore this magical hidden landscape with my friends and imagine I was travelling in another land. I had never seen anything like it before in my life. Local children knew of the 'secret jungle' and would walk up from Mevagissey to play and explore for hours and hours. I remember the shape and texture of the tree ferns and the bright colour of the rhododendrons, the exciting bamboo tunnels and the huge Monkey Puzzle Tree. We always referred to it as 'the elephant', as its trunk looked like a huge elephant leg coming down on us through the undergrowth. A child’s imagination is free to roam at Heligan, and as an adult, it still inspires that in me now.

I returned to Heligan in 2002 as staff within the Steward's House Café. It was only meant to be for one season but here I am nearly 18 years later now proudly leading the Jungle Team.

Over the years I have taken on several roles, from working in maintenance, to supervising the Estate and feeding the livestock. One job I will never forget is helping to paint the Vinery a few years ago and having one of the most frightening experiences of my life! I heard what sounded like a loud aeroplane, getting louder and louder and closer to me as I perched on top of the greenhouse. Suddenly it came into view. A huge black swarm of bees. There must have been about 50,000 of them and they headed my way. You never forget an image like that or the feeling it gives. Thankfully they settled on a tree and caused no harm at all.

I have two favourite places at Heligan. The first is the Kitchen Garden, as it transports me right back to memories of my grandparents gardening and to stories of Peter Rabbit. It’s just a lovely place to be. My second special place is the crossing at Second Pond in the Jungle. To be down by the water surrounded by lush tree ferns and jungle foliage never fails to bring a smile to my face and remind me how special the Jungle is.

I am required to assist each week with locking up of the whole garden, which always makes me feel such a connection to the past. When I lock up the Melon Yard, it feels like the gardeners of the past are there with me. The essence of those lost still remains.

One of my proudest memories was accomplishing the opening of Fern Gulley. It was the first time we got to take visitors into the depths of the Jungle. It took six months of team spirit, no machinery and a lot of Cornish shovels! Working in the Jungle is extremely hard work and requires me to be strong and fit. I am so proud of the way my body has held up over the years enabling me to continue to do the job I love. To relax I find time with my grandchildren or I sit and enjoy a glass of wine by an open fire, and when time allows, I love to walk the Cornish coastline.

I hope that our visitors love the Jungle as much as I do, there is something to be discovered in every season. At any time of year, you can stand under an incredible canopy and just feel ‘wow'. Spring is a fantastic time to explore and take in the historic rhododendrons and their astonishing bright colours. Everything grows so fast in spring and the feeling of new life emerging and nature awakening is a true delight.

I do feel that Heligan is so uplifting, it really does have its own magical properties that are hard to describe. I have felt this in a very real way. Earlier this year I lost my darling son Jowan. A traumatic and terrible time. Our family held each other as only families can. After a break from work I have now been fortunate enough to return to Heligan, with the support of my wonderful friends and colleagues. I can stand in Heligan and feel a strength and sense of healing from The Gardens, a peacefulness. It means a great deal to me.

Looking to the future I hope that the Jungle Team will start 2020 by draining and de-silting the top pond and to create a series of wonderful falls; the visual effect and sound will be beautiful. We plan to bulk up the trunk edging on the beds of the ginger lilies and banana plantation and create a much denser plantation for our visitors to enjoy. My least favourite task though is the de-silting of the ponds. It is wet and muddy, and I always feel broken by the end of the day, although in some ways this is always equally satisfying too!

I regularly enjoy Heligan as a visitor with my family and especially love the focus given to our wildlife and horses. The Heavy Horse Weekend was just fantastic, and I cannot wait to finally see our resident shire horse, Courage, put to work next year.

My colleagues are my mates and they are the best team in the world. We all have the same aim of making the Jungle simply look great! One of the traditions that the Jungle Team and I started within the ‘outside’ team, is to enjoy a Christmas jungle breakfast each December. We light the BBQ outside our Jungle shed and get into the festive spirit with a bonfire, music, log chairs and bacon butties! It’s a staff party like no other!

I love seeing all our jobs come together and for the Jungle to be enjoyed by people of all ages, to gain new perspectives, experiences and to find new ways to explore. The 11-year-old in me always remains present and looks to inspire and excite our visitors in the way Heligan first took its hold of my imagination all those years ago.

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