For me, Rococo is a very special place. But this past year has demonstrated to many others just how extra special it really is. As volunteers, helping to sustain the garden through these difficult times, each of us has added something special and of ourselves to the process. I’ve been around Rococo since 2014 but I’m sure that since March 2020 its value to the essence of our lives has increased immeasurably. I recall thinking early in lockdown v1 “how can this Garden survive?” especially as we had had a below-par snowdrop season.

Then the whole country shut down and for a while a skeleton team of staff kept the place just about ticking over with only the essentials being attended to. As spring turned to early summer so the Garden started to stir. A few volunteers began returning to help out with the absolute basics. At one stage we became a shop – dispensing hard-to-find flour, yeast and eggs. Then we found that garden centres could open and for a couple of weeks, the Garden became solely a plant sales outlet. As the summer drew on and the restrictions were lifted, that gorgeous wrought iron gate to the valley could be opened and small numbers of visitors allowed in to parts of the Garden. I witnessed just how excited and appreciative people were to see it had been looked after during the peak growing season, and I saw that they felt almost privileged to re-enter its enhanced peace and tranquility. I say enhanced because there were fewer planes overhead and fewer visitor feet treading the paths and wandering along the vistas.

For me, it has been a joy and mental balm to see the Garden blossom all over again. At each stage there was a sense of newness. The excitement of summer plays. The November lockdown was an autumnal delight and we found ourselves doing some of the end of season things we usually do – but differently and safely. Opening between Christmas and New Year was a masterful management decision in crowd-pleasing and generating some badly-needed income. It was especially magical as we had snow during that Christmas period too.

The long haul of lockdown v3 through January to March 2021 has now been eased just a little bit. Once again visitors locally have been able to find somewhere a bit different, a bit quirky and a bit special to stretch their weary legs and open their minds. It has been a place to experience something beyond the mundane. From a volunteer’s perspective, I have learned new skills and I feel good about making visitors welcome. We are not at the end of this yet, of course, but I’m sure we are all better off for our close association with this restorative oasis of tranquillity.

Tim Toghill, trustee & volunteer