Our Gardener Rachel Turfrey writes:
Wow, what a busy few weeks it’s been! They go so fast at Rococo that it may even be three weeks since the last gardeners’ blog. Luckily I take snapshots of the bits and pieces to remind myself of what we’ve been up to, and lately there’ve been some fun times.
On 17th May our commemorative maze turned 20. In 1998, 250 years after Thomas Robins painted the garden, the maze was designed by an incredibly intelligent lady called Professor Angela Newing who specialises in maths and physics (puzzles and mazes too!) Angela lived in Painswick at the time and was asked by the original Garden Director to help us create a maze and she certainly did. After the designing and planting of the maze, Angela was asked if she could think of anyone that might be interested in officially opening it for us (Angela tells this story so much better than I do). Back in 1998 Angela was working on a Radio 4 programme about maths and puzzles with none other than Johnny Ball. During recording, Johnny and Angela made the usual small talk and Johnny was delighted to hear that Angela lived in the lovely Cotswold village of Painswick which he had visited in the past and was very fond of. Can you guess what’s coming? After posing the question, Johnny was thrilled to be involved and officially opened our wonderful maze. Well, twenty years on, Johnny was asked again whether he’d be interested in coming back to mark its 20th birthday and, luckily for us, he said yes.
In order to commemorate its birthday we planned a tree planting in the middle of the ‘2’, and with a celebrity coming we needed to get some tidying done! A trim was needed and Jasper and I could be found on one very hot morning neatening up the edges of the maze and pick-axing the hole ready for Johnny. To be fair, Jasper did the hole digging whilst I watched and advised from the side lines! We also needed to paint the last of the Exedra plinths, and another hot and sunny day found Alex and myself next to the pond, paint brushes in hand.
The evening also incorporated our annual staff and volunteer party. Caterers were brought in and offered a delicious spread of BBQ food and drinks, including a particularly good tomato loaf! Yum! It was an opportunity to dress up a little and get together for a good catch up and chin wag and the odd photo. After a bit of food we all gathered outside the maze for a few words from Dominic, our Garden Director, and of course Angela and Johnny too. Then up to the maze viewpoint to overlook the planting of the tree. Here’s a photo of the sheer amount of people involved in some way at Rococo: it’s quite jaw dropping to see them all gathered, a lot of them volunteering their time for free.
The tree that Johnny planted is a Japanese Rowan, Sorbus commixta ‘Embley’ to be exact, and he used a very special golden spade for the job. It was later signed by Johnny and his wife Di, and Angela, as a souvenir of the evening. Such a friendly and fun man, he really made the evening for us with kind smiles and witty remarks. I think I’m right in saying that everyone had a lovely night, good memories were made all around.
There’s also the Royal Wedding to mention. How could we forget that? Our marketing team put together a fun trail around the garden for our younger visitors. The aim of the trail was to locate each member of the Royal family who were positioned around the Garden, eventually leading to the location of the golden crown (it was just laminated photos of the Royal family, not the real people. The crown, however, was real).
We also tested the water in our Kitchen Garden pond recently. It was looking a bit murky and we wanted to check that Goujon and his friends were safe and sound. The kit we bought tested the pH, ammonia and nitrate levels of the water. It was very much like the chemistry set I had as a child. Using a syringe we extracted small amounts of the pond water and added the necessary substances, either drops of liquid or powders, using the world’s smallest spoon. Then we measured the results against a colour chart. All levels showed normal, so no immediate worry we think.
The Kitchen Garden itself has seen a bit of action recently too. The pumpkins, squashes and sweetcorn have been planted out and the cut flower beds are now complete with pleasing rows of Gladioli, Astilbe, and Argyranthemums, amongst others.
We’ve had a visit from Alice recently too, not enough as far as we’re concerned, but one is better than none. Alice, despite leaving work as a gardener as Rococo, is still heavily involved with the local shows that we attend, in order to promote our gorgeous Garden. She had asked for a board to be created showing the map of the garden, illustrated with photos, and drilled with holes to hold rolled up raffle tickets and act as a treasure hunt. Here she is, looking a million dollars with the treasure hunt. Prizes included Rococo rhubarb with accompanying rhubarb gin recipe card, free entrance to the Garden along with lots of other special Rococo treats.
Probably the most eye catching work we’ve done recently has been in the Exedra Garden. There have been a lot of changes and work done to the Exedra garden in the last few months, including the replacement of the oak posts and edging boards, as well as a general emptying of the beds making room for more heritage planting and plants, not to mention the painting of the Exedra itself. And now we’ve finished off with dashing new gravel on the paths. This absolutely sets off the look of the Exedra Garden. After raking out the barrowed piles of gravel we hired a whacker plate (I believe that is the technical name) and ‘whacked’ or firmed down the new gravel ready for visitor foot fall. It really does shine right now around our beloved Exedra.
So, what’s blooming right now at Rococo?
How about everything? Or at least, so it seems. The woodland paths are overflowing with Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) and the Plunge Pool beds and Eagle House borders are jam-packed with colour.
The swathes of wild garlic through the Snowdrop Grove and beyond will soon have passed from flower to seed pod and that means it’s time for pickling, or it does in my house anyway! Tasting, and treated a little like capers, these little tiny hits of garlicky acidity are definitely worth the faff if you’re in the mood for a culinary delight. Here’s the recipe we use at home if you’re interested…
Pick as many wild garlic flower buds as you can. You don’t want to include any petals, just the small, lumpy pyramid shaped buds.
Weigh the pods. The initial stage will require 30% of their weight in salt. Mix the salt and the buds thoroughly and leave in the fridge for three weeks, turning occasionally.
After three weeks, rinse the salt off. Put the capers in a jar, and cover with good vinegar. I like white wine vinegar but cider would work too. Store in the fridge for at least a month before using. These are best added towards the end of any cooking process.
And finally, with all this gorgeous weather we’ve been having, we took the garden team canines and our sandwiches down to the Plunge Pool for 45 mins of freezing foot refreshment. It actually hurts after a minute or two but worth it on a sweaty day with hot booted feet!
Oh, one last thing… the ducks have become as adventurous as ever, making a journey all the way to the top of the kitchen garden and the Exedra pond!