Okay, I admit it: I am addicted to snowdrops. If you have been following along with Facebook or Instagram over the past few weeks, you’ll have seen these little white flowers have had a starring role in my February travels. One of the first things I learned as a novice snowdrop hunter is the importance of sun to bring out their lovely glow so, when planning my latest outing, I kept an eye on the forecast for the week, deciding to visit Painswick Rococo Garden on a day that promised sun and clear skies.
Yet as the chosen day dawned, thick fog was all that could be seen from the windows. The BBC was still calling for sun … from 11:00am. Until then, however, there was a yellow weather warning in place, meaning cars should take caution on the roads and flights might be cancelled or delayed. MrElaineous and I decided to go anyway, putting our trust in the unflappable forecast.
I wish I had taken a photograph of the fog when we set off from home; below is an artist’s reconstruction that is only slightly exaggerated.
As we drove towards Painswick, I swear the fog grew thicker as the time ticked onward. I knew the scenery outside was lovely. After all, it was the Cotswolds, literally an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with traditional stone cottages and quintessential English county scenes. I just couldn’t see any of it.
Then, with only 15 minutes to go before we arrived, the skies cleared as if by magic to reveal rolling green hills, golden stonework, and wild snowdrops and crocuses. As we pulled into Painswick Rococo Garden, the sought after sun and blue skies were well and truly present, promising a spectacular visit—and not just for the snowdrops. This garden in Painswick is the only surviving rococo garden open to the public in the UK and I was curious to see this unique example of a style I knew very little about.
After all, I inadvertently spent much of last year on the trail of Lancelot “Capability” Brown. The landscape garden movement, of which he is perhaps the best known landscape architect, has its origins in the mid-18th century. Out went formal, ornamental gardens and in went manmade lakes, ha-has, and carefully planted clumps of trees, all artificially designed to look natural and fulfil an imagined pastoral idyll. It is this style which has come to define how we view the English countryside, but it is just one in a line of different design trends.
Stepping further back in time, the ornate and extravagant Baroque style flourished in art and architecture for nearly 150 years prior to landscape gardens and their associated Neo-classical buildings. Yet there were a few decades in between these two periods where Rococo ruled. This was a style that evolved from the Baroque—indeed, it is sometimes referred to as late Baroque—and it is defined by a sense of drama and theatricality, with curves, gilding, asymmetry, and ornamentation. It has a lighter touch, a sense of play and frivolity, and is meant for enjoyment and entertainment.
The Rococo Garden in Painswick certainly lives up to this description and more. Curving paths lead visitors around a hidden valley and buildings that could almost be theatre sets pop up from around corners. The original design dates to the 1740s, when it was created by landowner Benjamin Hyett to entertain his guests at Painswick House. However, garden fashions can be relatively fleeting; over the next 200 years it was changed with the times, and eventually left overgrown and abandoned.
However, a painting was made of the garden in 1748, and this has been used as a guide over the past several decades to bring it back to its full glory. And it truly is glorious. My recent travels have seen me falling into the trap of perhaps overusing superlatives—stunning, incredible, magical—but all of these describe the Rococo Garden to a T. In addition to the millions of snowdrops, they also have thousands of daffodils just starting to emerge, a kitchen garden, a maze, and perhaps some of the most beautiful country views that I have recently come across.
Dilectus meus mihi et ego illi:
qui pascitur inter lilia
My beloved is mine and I am his: he feeds his flock among the lilies.
Song of Solomon
Flores apparuerunt in terra nostra; …
Vox turturis audita est in terra nostra.
The flowers appear on the earth; … the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land.
Surge, amica mea, speciosa mea et veni.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Song of Solomon
Above: Glass engraving at the Red House.
Below: A very grand pigeon house and the Eagle House.
Beyond the garden itself, the village of Painswick is also worth exploring. The churchyard of St. Mary is like nothing I have seen before, filled with remarkable monuments (including a miniature pyramid) and 99* clipped yew trees that surround the church in a dark sea of green. During my visit a patch of purple crocuses spilled across the churchyard in a gorgeous flood of colour, turning it into a photography magnet for everyone passing by.
Much of Painswick is built from local Cotswold stone, which glows gold in the light. There may be a semantic argument about whether to describe it as quaint or classical but, either way, I found it all absolutely charming. Painswick is known as the Queens of the Cotswolds and, in my opinion, it has more than earned its crown.
* Legend says 99 but the actual number may be over 100. MrElaineous and I didn’t stay to count them, but maybe on a return trip …