Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden - Chinese proverb

Monday, 22 February 2010

Garden Visit: Snow on Snow at Painswick

Last Friday I'd planned to visit Painswick Rococo Garden with Patient Gardener for a spot of 'snowdrop peeping'. However, Malvern was snowed in so we failed to make our rendezvous. Chippenham was snow free all weekend and because my grumpiness at not going in brilliant sunshine was increasing, NAH took pity on me and we went yesterday. It wasn't until we reached the Cotswolds that I got an inkling of the problems Helen had been experiencing. Still, snowdrops on snow's rather fetching isn't it?

The garden at Painswick is most unusual. Rococo describes an ornate style of architecture, art and interior design dating from 1720 to 1760 and it's only recently that the corresponding style of garden dating to the same period has been rediscovered. It's really a transition style: from the formality of earlier French and Dutch influenced designs to the later grander and much more successful English Landscape style developed by Kent, Capability Brown and Repton.

The Rococo garden style is a playful one, full of follies (like the pictured Eagle House above), grottoes and places for the aristocracy to have their fun. A place of decadence and to have lavish parties. I was reminded of the song Nymphs and Shepherds (a poem by Thomas Shadwell, with music by Henry Purcell which we used to sing at school) whilst I wandered around the garden, particularly:

In this grove lets sport and play,
For this is Flora's holiday,
Sacred to ease and happy love,
To music, to dancing and to poetry.

The garden is built on a steep hillside with clear springs within its grounds, thus affording the building of grottoes, a plunge pool and follies with which to surprise the visitor. However, it does also have elements of the more sweeping vistas of the later English Landscape style, such as this hedged walkway flanked by trees on either side which takes the visitor from the Red House at the top of the garden down to the Fish Pond at the bottom.

The garden is also famed for its massed plantings of snowdrops at this time of the year. It's reputed to be one of the best places in the country to view them and there must have been hundreds of thousands if not millions of them. In Victorian times the local villagers were let in to the garden at certain times to pick them by the basketful. Today it's look but don't touch, but when they're like this, who cares?

The other great thing about having snowdrops on hillsides is unlike at home it's very easy to take fetching close-ups of the clumps without having to lie down on my tummy. Most of the snowdrops are plain old Galanthus nivalis or its double form 'Flore pleno', which is fine by me. In the hillside area choicer varieties have also been planted recently, such as 'Magnet' and 'Lyn Sales'. Sadly there was no sign of G. nivalis 'Atkinsii' for which Painswick is famed, either in the garden (mind you I'm no expert, so I expect I saw loads of them without realising) or in the plant sales area :(


The dominant garden feature is The Exedra, which is found in many of my photographs from all round the garden. Just as well because it's meant to be an eyecatcher as well as the kind of discussion piece of its time. This, plus the ice-cream colours or honeyed local stone of many of the garden's main features also reminded me a little of Portmeirion.

There's a reflecting pool, plus a small intimate garden in front of The Exedra, but it also stands at the head of a large kitchen garden, which dominates the central section.


You can just see the kitchen garden beyond the maze which was built to commemorate 250 years since the garden was built by the Hyett family. The kitchen garden was closed and owing to the season it was quite difficult to make sense of this space, though it is true to the original garden's design and usage. In season, the produce supplies the most pleasant cafe and I was also pleased to see a local heritage potato variety - Gloucester Black Kidney - amongst the potatoes being chitted in The Bothy (aka potting shed).

The maze is unusual because it has three goals within it and I suspect it's much easier to solve at this time of the year...


A view of the main part of the garden from the Fish Pond at the bottom. I rather like the reflection of the snowdrops in the water. The 'white' building to the right of the picture is the Red House which is undergoing some renovation work at the moment.


From the Fish Pond there's a walk through the Tunnel Arbour to the woodland snowdrop area. Here the snowdrops weren't quite as advanced as the hillside ones I showed you earlier, so there's still a few weeks of snowdrop heaven available for visitors!

The Gothic Alcove shown at the top of this post completely hides this view of the Cotswolds until you step behind it. It meant I had a bit of a tussle with myself over this garden feature. The main way of reaching it is along a long straight path, where it forms the classic focal point you will find in any book on garden design. And I was happy with that until I found this view at the end. However, on balance I'm not sure the garden's orientation would lend itself to the view being opened up, so I'm satisfied it can remain as a surprise waiting to be discovered.

This is Painswick House, originally known as Buenos Ayres to Charles Hyett who moved here from industrial Gloucestershire for the sake of his health. He built the house so he could benefit from the clean air, but sadly died soon afterwards. It was his son Benjamin who commissioned the building of the Rococo garden in the combe behind the house in the 1740s. It seems that like the Rococo style itself, the garden soon fell out of fashion because no sign of the garden can be found in the parish map of 1820, even though subsequent generations of the Hyett family carried on in the spirit of decadence and play the garden represented. They instigated a festival dedicated to Pan - the god of shepherds, lust and mischief and a statue of Pan can be seen close to the garden's entrance.

The original garden lay forgotten until a painting by Thomas Robins (a local man thought to be the garden's designer) was exhibited in 1976 which showed the plan of the garden in great detail. This led to a revival of interest in gardens from this period and the property's then owner, Lord Dickinson decided to restore the now completely overgrown garden back to its original design. Restoration work commenced in 1984 and is almost complete. Painswick House is now a separate property to the garden and I wonder if it's the immense cost of restoration which forced Lord Dickinson to sell the house in 1999, whilst retaining the freehold to the garden.

So what's seen today is a mixture of original features and rebuilt ones, all true to a design seen in a painting. Painswick is a unique garden (I believe there is no other dating to the same period), but as I haven't delved that deeply into garden history I don't know whether it's a typical design (or even a 'good' one) from that period. There's often quite a vigorous debate in the gardening world about whether an historic garden should be preserved in aspic. I'm usually for gardens moving on and evolving, but in this instance I'm all for it remaining as it is: as an example for study as well as enjoyment.


I do hope Helen will forgive me for going without her and there aren't any of these...
I've just found out I followed in the footsteps of other blogging visitors to the garden from a few weeks ago. We both experienced snow, though at least mine had stopped falling...

Update: Paul Hervey-Brookes who owns the nursery next door (and also blogs from there) left this most informative comment. Having gone through in my mind the way the garden was originally accessed in his description, it does make much more sense:

One of the great ironies of Painswick is that we modern gardeners approach the garden from the Gardeners Gate in the Melon Ground. Actually original visitors would have been taken across the front of Painswick House and entered the garden at the Gothic Alcove and walked through the woods past the Hermitage and caught glimpses of the more formal garden until they arrived at the pond. This would have been a deliberate design statement to reinforce the suggestion of folly and arbitrary excess, perhaps with our modern 'design' eyes and the way we now enter the garden this reference seems slightly lost. On a more practical note, Galanthus Atkinsii is planted for the main part in the wilderness in front of the Red House and is possibly the largest naturalistic planting of them in the country. Incidentally we always seem to sell out of G. atkinsii, and we potted over 400, by the 1st week of February.

And Sarah, also visited the garden this week which then inspired her to do this...

26 comments:

  1. Dear Michelle, As it is many years now since I visited the Rococo Garden, another visit being long overdue, I very much enjoyed reading this posting and, so to speak, accompanying you on your tour. As you mention at the end, it was also visited recently by RW who also wrote a review, his more from a design aspect.

    For me this garden sits most happily in the 'Picturesque' style; the more formal elements are less well accommodated into the overall design.

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  2. Very cool. The snowdrops are heart warming!

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  3. Thank you for the beautiful tour and history. Lovely even at this time of year. I love the masses of snowdrops. I have a few clumps in my garden of same variety so I'll remember your tour each time I see them.

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  4. Painswick revisited for me as you know, but greatly enjoyed your post all the same. We all see different apects, don't we? Or some the same and some different! You completely caught the atmosphere with your 'Nymphs and shepherds.'
    And thanks for the link.
    Best Wishes
    Robert

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  5. Beautiful swathes of snowdrops - particularly the hillside ones.

    I loved reading about the history of the gardens and Painswick House itself - this really is my kind of post! Ah, Nymphs and Shepherds - poetry and music are such natural friends with the appreciation of gardens aren't they? A wonderful post. Thank you!

    Jeanne

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  6. Thank You so much for showing the Snowdrops at Painswick. I have always wanted to travel to England for snowdrop time, but since it is so far away, I feel I need to go at a time when there are other things to see. It's nice to be able to visit through your beautiful pictures.
    Cindee

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  7. Fantastic & detailed description of everything VP, but more importantly I can still sing (badly) a large chunk of Nymphs & Shepherds & will do so at will much to the annoyance of the rest of the family!

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  8. A most informative and enjoyable post VP and all those snowdrops too :) Sorry that you did not find your 'Atkinsii'. You will have to return next year.

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  9. No sour grapes just sulking. We had another inch or so this morning - snow has definately lost its appeal this year. Glad you enjoyed it and maybe will get there next year

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  10. Thank you for the tour. Unfortunately in Canada, snowdrops are not as popular as they are in England, you very rarely see them in peoples gardens.

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  11. Thanks for such a glorious tour. The snowdrops and landscapes are fantastic and I remember the restoration going on, of the rococo themes. Not sure I like them, but it's a fascinating style.

    Do you recall the immortal Peter Sellers rendition of Nymphs and Shepherds, as sung by the choir of the boys' public school Cretinby? It was on one of the albums he made in the 60s and hilarious.

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  12. I'm sick of snowdrops on snow, thank you very much, but what an incredible sight is that hillside of snowdrops. I want to see it in person, to run along the path, to catch the honey scent in the air. What a delight it must have been.

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  13. Edith - if it's a while since you've visited, I think you'll find it much changed. Forgot to say in my post that you'll need wellies at this time of the year!

    Hermes - thanks

    Michelle - I love snowdrops = particularly after the kind of winter we've had

    Joan - welcome! I have clumps of snowdrops too - the vision of them in my head is of Painswick though!

    Robert - I've had Nymphs & Shepherds on the brain since I wrote this!

    Jeanne - the hillside ones are my favourites too.

    Cindee - isn't that the good thing about the web? You can see what it's like here at the time of year :)

    Ms B - careful with the twiddly bits of the song!

    Anna - I think I might need to look elsewhere for the 'Atkinsii' even though this is the place where it originates from

    PG - we must definitely make it there together next year :)

    Deborah - welcome! That's a real shame - I thought they'd be a good bulb for Canada?

    Nige - I must seek that version out again - if I find an online version it'll replace the link to Manchester Girls Grammar school ;)

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  14. Hi Michelle, I'm going with a friend tomorrow - as long as I can get out of Malvern (it has snowed yet again today but not settling yet...). I've never been before so am quite excited! Great post - mine will be photographic, so I'll link to yours for such wonderful info.

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  15. Artshades - welcome! Have a fantastic time tomorrow - I can thoroughly recommend the coffee and cake afterwards too. Oh and take some wellies or boots - parts of the walkways are rather muddy at the moment...

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  16. Hello VP,

    One of the great ironies of Painswick is that we modern gardeners approach the garden from the Gardeners Gate in the Melon Ground. Actually original visitors would have been taken across the front of Painswick House and entered the garden at the Gothic Alcove and walked through the woods past the Hermitage and caught glimpses of the more formal garden until they arrived at the pond. This would have been a deliberate design statement to reinforce the suggestion of folly and arbitrary excess, perhaps with our modern 'design' eyes and the way we now enter the garden this reference seems slightly lost. On a more practical note, Galanthus Atkinsii is planted for the main part in the wilderness in front of the Red House and is possibly the largest naturalistic planting of them in the country. Incidentally we always seem to sell out of G. atkinsii, and we potted over 400, by the 1st week of February. I am sorry to have missed you as you had left a message on my blog, however I was working away all of that week. Best wishes Paul.

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  17. Thanks for sharing your trip to Painswick. I had a lovely time viewing the snowdrops and the beautiful countryside. I was glad to read of the history of the place and garden. The weekend parties there must have been incredible at the time.

    Since snowdrops don't survive here, I'm always happy to see them in photographs.

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  18. Paul - welcome! Thanks for leaving such an informative reply - I think it deserves being put out on the post itself.

    Having just gone through in my head the way into the garden you've described, yes that does make much more sense. And next time I'll get there early for some G. 'Atkinsii' :)

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  19. Kate - I had no idea snowdrops didn't survive in Canada. For some reason I thought they'd be the ideal bulb. Thanks for putting me right.

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  20. I don't want to mislead you ~ Snowdrops grow in many parts of Canada (except in zones 3 & below ~ where I am). I'd like to try them one fall and see if they will grow with a good leaf covering.

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  21. Thanks for the clarification, Kate :)

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  22. I love the photos of the manor and surrounding gardens.
    Beeautiful images.
    Wish I was there :)

    Aanee xxx
    Flowers Dublin

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  23. Welcome Aanee - how about taking a cheap Ryanair flight from Dublin next spring? Good excuse for a late winter break :)

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  24. Very late with my comment here, VP... what a stunning place to visit and the snowdrops looked breathtaking too :-D

    I've just added this post link to a current posting of mine (Feb 2011) with lots of links to see snowdrop displays. I hope you are okay with that :-)

    Enjoy your visits during 2011 - if you have time. Your recent snowdrop day looked fun :-D

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  25. Shirl - late comments from you are always welcome :)

    Thanks for the link - no doubt you've been to Cambo this year for your snowdrop feast?

    Yes, my recent study day with Patient Gardener was a real treat :)

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