The Ladies' Tea Guild

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Get out the croquet set and enjoy these last days of summer!

"A Game of Croquet" by Winslow Homer, 1866. Wikipedia.
Croquet is a vintage game that can be very formal and complicated, or it can be played in a much simplified manner that is perfect for home and public park games. You need a croquet set -- and these can sometimes be found at places like Target and Wal-mart, as well as specialty sporting-goods stores -- and you need a medium-sized to large grassy area. If you have a back or front yard that is covered in grass and fairly flat, and at least 20 feet long, that will work. If you don't have enough space at home, you can try a local public park. Bring your croquet set, plus a rubber mallet for tapping on the stakes and wickets (wire hoops) to stick them in the ground, as well as any picnic stuff you like. Shade canopies or umbrellas, beach chairs, picnic blankets, and Thermoses full of iced tea and lemonade are particularly recommended! English croquet lawn. Image from

While proper croquet has its set of rules, including the size of the court, and the spacing and placement of the wickets and stakes, if playing for fun at home or at the park, you can set it up in whatever space you have. Try to space the wickets and stakes at equal distances from each other, with one stake at each end of the court and one in the center. The traditional layout for the wickets is a figure-8 design, with the stakes making the ends and center of the "8" and the wickets making the sides, with one wicket also in front of each stake at each end of the court.

The object of the game is to be the first one to hit their ball through the last wicket and hit the last stake. Each player has to hit their own ball through all the wickets in order, hitting the stakes at each end and in the middle, first going one direction through all the wickets, and then going back through them all in reverse order. Each player gets one swing, or "stroke" for their turn, and if you swing and miss your ball, it still counts as a stroke! The only time you get more than one stroke for your turn is if your ball hits or touches another person's (or team's) ball as it moves after you hit it. In that case, you get to pick up your ball (you can't touch it at any other time unless you hit it out of bounds), put your ball right next to the ball that it hit or touched, and then hit your ball with a second stroke. The idea is that as you hit your ball, it hits the other one and knocks it out of the way. Then you get to take a third stroke (without picking up your ball) and hit just your own ball. Then your turn is over. All other rules are to be decided by all the players voting on whether or not to allow a certain thing in their game.
Croquet mallet, balls and stake. Image from
Since you have to move around the court so much, it would be helpful to bring some different colored ribbons or clothespins so that each person can mark the next wicket or stake that they are aiming for, after they finish each turn. There are a lot more rules, as well as special croquet terms, that apply to the full, "official" version of the game, but the American Backyard version preserves the essence and fun of the game without all the complexity.

If you're in the San Jose area next month, come on down to Overfelt Gardens and join the South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild at their Croquet Picnic! Here's the info:

Date: Saturday, September 11, 2010 @ 2 pm
Location:Overfelt Gardens, 368 Educational Park Dr., San Jose
Cost: $25 per person
Suggested Costume: summer afternoon wear from 1870 through 1930, or modern “garden party” wear in pastels or white, with hats and/or parasols. Vintage picnic gear like blankets, umbrellas, etc. encouraged!

Gentlemen and children welcome! Iced tea and picnic refreshments will be provided, along with a printed copy of the American Backyard Croquet rules. If you have your own croquet set, feel free to bring it along. Bring a camera for great photo opportunities!

R.S.V.P. and send food fee by Thursday, September 9. You can send payment by PayPal or by mail. E-mail for more information.

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)