Rococo Garden:

Just outside the village, on the Gloucester Road, but within walking distance, is Painswick House and its Rococo Garden.

Painswick House was built as a gentleman’s residence in the mid 1730’s by Charles Hyett, an asthma sufferer, who came to Painswick to escape the smog of Gloucester. After his death, shortly after the house was built, his son Benjamin created the garden in a hidden valley behind the House.

The new house,  which replaced a farmhouse, is probably by John Strahan, and is a significant early 18th century villa in classical style, showing the influence of the Scottish architect James Gibbs (who may have contributed to a house in Winson – see page ???). The garden, laid out in the 1740s and including a number of classical and Gothic buildings, was possibly designed by Thomas Robins, who depicted the designed landscape in a series of paintings at the same date. Eventually the estate passed to the family of Benjamin Hyett’s wife, and later to William Henry Adams, who assumed the surname Hyett in 1813. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society for his contribution to the field of agricultural science, and served as MP for Stroud in 1832-4.

W H Hyett expanded the estate with purchases and exchanges of land surrounding the house, and by 1847 it comprised 471 acres. Hyett enlarged the house in 1827-32, by the addition of east and west wings whose exterior continued the style of the existing house, with Greek Revival interiors. The extensions were designed by Hyett’s brother-in-law, the architect George Basevi (1794-1845), who had studied under Sir John Soane and became one of the leading English architects of the period, undertaking high-profile commissions including the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Over the decades the original Rococo garden was neglected. It was fortunate that the paintings by Thomas Robins were extant, which, when interest in 18th century formal  gardens was revived in the 1970s, allowed restorers to rescue the old garden from oblivion.

The English gardens of the period between 1720 and 1760 were designed for fun and frivolity and parties. Garden historians named the period Rococo, after the 18th century artistic movement and style, which affected several aspects of the arts including painting, sculpture, architecture, interior design, decoration, literature, music and theatre. Emanating from France as a reaction against the grandeur, symmetry and strict regulations of the Baroque. Rococo art and architecture was ornate and made strong usage of creamy, pastel-like colours, asymmetrical designs, and curves, particularly the S-curve.  In Britain Rococo was always thought of as the “French taste”, although its influence was strongly felt in some decorative arts, whilst Thomas Chippendale transformed British furniture design through his adaptation and refinement of the style. It also influenced the revival of interest in Gothic architecture early in the 18th century.

This interest led Lord Dickinson, a descendant of Charles Hyett, to begin an ambitious programme of work. In 1988 he handed control of that programme to Painswick Rococo Garden Trust and granted the Trust a long lease of the Garden.

The Rococo Garden is not just scenic – it has one of the largest naturalistic plantings of snowdrops in the country. Galanthus (Snowdrop; Greek gála “milk”, ánthos “flower”) is a small genus of about twenty species of bulbous herbaceous plants in the Amaryllis family. Most flower in winter, before the vernal equinox (21 March in the Northern Hemisphere). It is possible that the Romans introduced snowdrops but they are more likely to have been brought to England in the early 16th Century. Galanthus nivalis is native to a large tract of mainland Europe from the Pyrenees in the west, through France and Germany to Poland in the north, Italy, Northern Greece and European Turkey. Most of the other Galanthus species come from the eastern Mediterranean, though several are found in South Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Galanthus fosteri comes from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Israel.
One early-flowering giant snowdrop, Galanthus Atkinsii has a strong connection with Painswick House and Garden. John Atkins (1804-1884) was a retired nurseryman originally from Northamptonshire, who lived in one of the estate cottages owned by the family. He obtained a bulb, probably from southern Italy, in about 1870, which he called Galanthus imperati. This was offered by Atkins to the nursery trade and sales started on a commercial basis around 1875, prized by early snowdrop collectors for its size and beauty. In 1891 the name was changed to Galanthus Atkinsii.

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