Painswick Rococo Garden is well known for its stunning snowdrop display but this quirky Cotswold favourite is more than a one-season wonder and summer is also a good time to visit.
Not that you will get the flowing herbaceous borders that are a feature of many gardens in the region, as new head gardener Roger Standley explains.
“There’s not much in the way of flower borders here,” says Roger, who started at Painswick Rococo two months ago. “It was not a big part of what they did.”
What they did do when the garden was laid out in the 1740s was big theatrical display and Painswick Rococo is well known for its eye-catching follies: the striking Red House, pale pink Eagle House and Exedra that stands like a curve of intricate icing in the garden.
It’s the planting around the Exedra that’s occupying Roger when we meet. While the beds match the original shape – as shown on a 1748 painting of the garden by Thomas Robins – what’s in them doesn’t fit the period.
“The 18th century had a lot more space around the plants rather than a mass cottagey planting.”
Lavender has been forced to grow tall in some places and is flopping over its neighbours elsewhere; eupatorium is too big and is blocking views of the roses; Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is just the wrong plant.
“Much as I love the crocosmia, it’s very much a Victorian introduction and a good 100 years too late for us.”
Not that this winter’s replanting will favour historical accuracy over gardening common sense: “Where the look of the plant fits we will use modern varieties of the species.”
Roger is planning to remove some things, drastically reduce the size of others and replant the lavender, restricting it to just to an avenue leading up to the Exedra and its reflection pool.
Next summer, he will also be using more annuals in the spaces that are created between perennials.
“We will possibly have a theme in these areas with one year lots of varieties of nicotiana and in another sunflowers.”
Spring bulbs are also going to be added to extend the display. And that’s the dilemma of somewhere like Painswick Rococo: while it aims to be historically accurate to fit its status as the only surviving garden of the period that’s open to the public, it is also a charity enterprise that needs to attract visitors year-round to fund its upkeep.
As part of that drive to encourage people to visit out of snowdrop time, this summer sees a sculpture exhibition in the garden by stone balancer Adrian Gray, who put on an award-winning show at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Seven of his gravity-defying pieces are on display until the end of August and their almost mesmerising quality perfectly fits the Rococo Garden’s tranquil atmosphere.
Some of the sculptures are sited in the orchard where the grass is being allowed to grow long. A serpentine mown path enables visitors to wander through the meadow area, which is already attracting more insects.
If the stone sculptures are a temporary feature, the ducks are now permanent residents. Brought in to manage the weed on the pond – which barley treatments had failed to shift – the group of Jemima Puddle-Duck look-alikes and their floating duck house are proving popular with visitors; the duck house is modelled on one in a painting by Thomas Robins of a Rococo-style garden at Honington.
Nearby, the plunge pool beds are another area Roger is keen to tackle: “It needs a new design and something a bit more in keeping with the 18th century.”
Shade planting under large trees is fine but the other beds are, we agree, a bit of a mish-mash of different things.
Meanwhile, the formal vegetable garden – part of the original layout – now supplies not only the garden’s café but also a bistro in the village and visitors can buy surplus produce and plants.
Ultimately though it’s the sense of fun and discovery that draws people to Painswick Rococo.
“There’s a fantastic historical layout to the garden and the setting is incredible.”
• For more details about Painswick Rococo Garden, visit the website