Monday, 9 October 2017

Roy Lancaster, Achocha, and The Cotswold Wildlife Park

Autumn brings out the forager in me. I love roaming along hedgerows in search of fruit; it makes me feel like the heroine in a Thomas Hardy novel.
I was a scavenging child. My favourite windfalls were almonds. I bashed the shells with a stone until they cracked open. It might not have been the quickest or easiest method, but there was no social media in those days so I could spend happy hours communing with almonds without the pressure of posing for a selfie every five minutes. 
My latest garden grazing took place with the full permission of the head gardener at Cotswold Wildlife Park. Cornus 'Norman Hadden' fruits are blessed with delicious flesh and disgustingly bitter seeds. It is not a fruit I will be caught scrumping any time soon. 
Cornus 'Norman Hadden' fruit
Thankfully, I was visiting with a group of fellow gardeners, and one had a pocketful of cucamelons (as you do). They were wonderful Cornus seed bitterness eradicators. I cannot recommend them highly enough. The cucamelon grower was also carrying achocha. Having never eaten this particular fruit before, I was keen to try it so I took some home for a Sunday breakfast achocha fry-up. It was rather good and made a complete change from the cake that had kicked-off my previous morning.
Cucamelon and achocha
I only eat breakfast cake when I’m travelling. Much of Saturday was spent on the road because with complete disregard for the adage that we should never meet our heroes, I set off on a seven-hour round trip to meet mine. 
Roy Lancaster at Cotswold Wildlife Park
Roy Lancaster, the raconteur with encyclopaedic botanical knowledge, is credited with having introduced some of our most popular garden plants. It would be very easy for him to sit around being the doyen scattering pearls of wisdom at his feet, he has, after all, earned this accolade. But while he is generous in sharing his expertise, his quest for knowledge continues at a staggering rate. As we toured the gardens at Cotswold Wildlife Park, he asked questions about plants that he might not have seen for some years (the gardens are home to some superbly grown rarities). No wonder he is so knowledgeable! He is in his eightieth year, an expert in his field, and still keen to find out more.
I learnt a lot about plants during our tour of the gardens, but the biggest eye-opener was that the most knowledgeable plantsman I am ever likely to meet is still asking questions and learning. We can never stop learning. My gardening hero remains atop his pedestal. I feel privileged and delighted to have met him. 

Do you have a gardening hero?

Cotswold Wildlife Park is very well worth a visit for the plants alone. Needless to say, the animals are wonderful too! 

Roy Lancaster's latest book is 'My Life With Plants'


  1. My gardening hero would have to be Jekka McVicar, I love herbs and once did a five hour round trip to her herb farm near Bristol to hear her talk ... and, obviously, to come home with armfuls of plants. ;) So... is achocha on your growing list for next year? I grow it every year (often by mistake if I don't whip the self seeders out in time) and have squillions of fruit. V nice fried in butter but mine get eaten when tiny as they're like cucumbers then.

  2. He's my gardening hero too and now I've missed him... twice :( James Alexander Sinclair said he's the one speaker worth crossing an ocean to listen too. Luckily I don't have to cross an ocean to forage for almonds as there are several trees hanging over a wall round the corner from me :)

  3. I have heard him speak at several HPS events. He was also visiting John Massey's garden this summer, the queue to buy his autographed book was very long!

  4. What a great visit! I am totally jealous that you got to meet Roy Lancaster! I am not surprised that a man of his stature is still committed to learning. No doubt that is one of the secrets of his success. I have noticed that people who are eager to continue to learn are also the ones who are humble enough to spend time teaching and learning from the least of us.

  5. You were mixing in exalted circles. I have never tasted achocha but I wasn’t too impressed by cucamelons.

  6. Oh wow you are very priviledged! At least you were able to see someone like him in your lifetime, not only in photos. I smiled when you mention that during yur childhood you can spend a lot of time "communing with almonds". I had also my share with that, though i had other nuts to commune with, here in the hot tropics! hahaha

  7. Is C. 'Norman Hadden' a variety of C. kousa? I didn't know that any of the Cornus berries were good for people to eat.

  8. Posting a photo of you and your hero is a privilege! It must have been a memorable day. Groetjes Hetty

  9. You met Roy Lancaster, that is just so special Currently, I admire Carol Klein for her knowledge, enthusiasm and such a very happy face. When I started gardening in 1969 it was Geoffrey Smith and his weekly article in Garden News that helped getting me hooked.

  10. What a wonderful visit! And what a wonderful example to always keep learning. I've never even heard of achocha before. How fun to try some new things. Growing up there wasn't a lot to forage where I lived except for wild blueberries and rose hips, neither of which I liked as a kid. Now that I live in New England, I feel like I live with a bounty of food in the forest with all the berries and nuts!

  11. Wow, Sarah, I would get so star struck I'd be at a loss for words. I'd definitely want to try taking many selfies though

  12. What a special foraging day you had, Sarah. Does the wildlife park have animals too? I'm not familiar with current English garden gurus, but Chistopher Lloyd was always my hero. Here in USA, I greatly admire Doug Tallamy. So inspiring to know that Roy Lancaster keeps learning. As a passionate, rather elderly gardener, I feel the same way. P. x

    1. Doug Tallamy I would love to hear in real life!

  13. do you have okra seed sir. thanks

  14. I don't have any gardening heroes other than all those gardeners/garden shows of BBC/ITV. I gobble them down. I really like Monty Don's presentations. Just for gardening, I sometimes feel like moving to the UK or at least spend there couple of months to a year :-). Gardening is indeed in the blood of you all, I feel :-). I have to read Roy Lancaster's book now. I think doyen of any field never stop learning, whatever age they might be in; that's why they become doyen/maestros/etc.