When Painswick Rococo Garden closed its gates to the last of the 2015 visitors it signalled more than just the end of the season. Its director Paul Moir leaves later this month after 27 years spent guiding this idiosyncratic garden from near dereliction to popular tourist attraction.
It will, he admits, be a time of mixed emotions. Relief that he will no longer need to anxiously watch weather forecasts, hoping for the cold, clear days that encourage visitors during snowdrop time. Regret at no longer being part of a close-knit team.
“It’s the camaraderie of the volunteers and the staff,” he explains, stressing that it was his decision to leave. “I will miss my colleagues in the industry.”
It will also be a new era for the garden as, with Paul’s wife, Claire, also handing over control of the catering it’s the first time the garden has been led by someone outside the family, although his parents will still be trustees.
Paul began in 1988 just as the Painswick Rococo Garden Trust was established to continue the restoration work started by his stepfather Lord Dickinson, who inherited the garden in 1950.
“There was nothing here but a lot of grass, a few trees in the orchard and two yew hedges,” recalls Paul.
What they did have was a 1748 painting by Thomas Robins of the garden and this has formed the blueprint for a project that has seen the restoration of paths, planting and the follies for which the Rococo is known.
These buildings – the iconic Red House, the pink Eagle House and icing sugar white Exedra – have been at once a source of pride and frustration for Paul. While they undoubtedly are an essential part of the Rococo’s charm, they are also challenging and expensive to manage.
“Because our hard landscaping has been restored in the way it would have been done in the 18th century it makes it very expensive to maintain. I’ve certainly become experienced in the challenges of restoring listed buildings.”
Indeed, one of his niggles is the fact that it has proved impossible to fully restore the interior of the Red House to its ornate original.
In contrast, he is proudest of something that would not have featured in the original garden, the maze planted to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Robins’ painting. Unlike most mazes, this depiction of the number 250 is designed to be looked at as much as explored.
“People love it because they can stand above it and look down. That’s its unique quality.”
Attractions like this have helped the garden extend its interest beyond the few weeks in February when the snowdrops bloom; just over a third of the annual 27,000 visitors arrive then. A snowdrop Sunday can see as many as 2,500 people arrive or as few as 50, depending on the weather. Indeed, the vagaries of the weather, along with foot and mouth and floods are just some of the challenges Paul has faced over the years.
There’s still work to be done: the area below the Red House is not fully restored and fundraising is due to start to build a new entrance building.
But all that will be left to his successor, Dominic Hamilton, who joins the Rococo from Snowshill Manor.
As for Paul, he has no immediate plans beyond more weekends off and the chance to get out to other gardens, particularly during the snowdrop season.
“I’m looking forward to going to see other places and being able to look at them without comparing them to here,” he says.
• For more information about Painswick Rococo Garden, visit www.rococogarden.co.uk