My winter visit to Painswick Rococo Garden, in the Cotswold town of Painswick, gave me a glimpse back to a flamboyant and frivolous era, where gardens were designed to capture the light-hearted and pleasure-seeking atmosphere of the times.
While this garden is beautiful to visit at any time of year, it is most famous for its breathtaking display of snowdrops visible in winter.
The mid 18th century period of garden design reflected the transition from the formal garden to the ‘English Landscape Garden’, when aristocratic gardens were designed as theatrical backdrops for lavish parties. They incorporated features such as brightly coloured hidden follies and statues, to surprise, and sometimes shock. Sadly, it turns out these gardens quickly went out of fashion – they were apparently seen as vulgar! The garden at Painswick was no exception and it became a functional garden, rather than a Regency playground.
It wasn’t until the 1980s, more than 250 years since its original design, that the garden at Painswick started being restored back to its former glory. It is now the only surviving complete rococo garden in the country.
My first glimpse of the garden was a bird’s eye view of it unfolding across the valley, with a kitchen garden below.
Snowdrop season is one of the highlights of this garden’s calendar year. At this time of year, the valley sides are awash with these delicate white flowers, often credited with heralding the start of spring.
Painswick Rococo Garden is home to one of the largest naturalistic plantings of snowdrops in Britain. It is also said to be the spiritual home of the Galanthus Atkinsii – an early flowering giant snowdrop – named in homage to James Atkins, who lived in Painswick and first introduced the bulb to Great Britain.
Drifts of snowdrops carpet the route to the Red House, a dramatic backdrop to the main walkway through the garden. Now protected as a home to lesser horseshoe bats, it is easy to imagine ladies in Rococo-times chatting and taking tea in this lovely folly.
Another eye-catching folly, hidden in a different part of the garden, is the Eagle House. This pretty, pink, hexagonal shaped building looks like it belongs in a fairytale and is now used as a romantic setting for weddings.
I’m always a fan of mazes and the maze here is designed in the shape of ‘250’ to commemorate the resurrection of the garden. It’s a small maze, but reaches up to head-height. The viewpoint above is a fun way to spy on people getting lost amongst the privet hedges.
My favourite view though, was from below the lake looking back at the length of the garden I’d just wandered through. Snowdrops drifted up the bank and reflected back at me in the water. In the distance, the white turrets of the Exedra form a theatrical backdrop.
Yet more snowdrops blanketed the floor of the woodland section of the garden, dotted with a few early daffodils. A castle sculpture, carved from the trunk of an ancient beech tree added another surprise. I heard a little girl tell her Mum that fairies lived inside – and here I can well believe it!
As snowflakes gently began to fall, I headed to the café for a bowl of watercress soup and a slice of yummy homemade cake. On the way, a statue of Pan caught my eye. Pan is a cheeky chap, the god of nature and shepherds, and often appears in sensual scenes. An original and, I think, very appropriate addition to this once frivolous garden.
Have you been to see any snowdrop displays? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.