About Painswick Rococo Garden

What is rococo?

Back in the 1740s, Benjamin Hyett designed an unusual garden to entertain his guests at Painswick House.  This was a theatrical place, nestled in a hidden valley and perfect for holding intimate garden parties.  It was a country gentleman's experimental creation, not the realisation of a horticultural dream.  Instead of an orderly flower garden, this is a haven of peace and tranquillity to explore, sprinkled with quirky features to tickle your fancy.

Rococo describes a period of art fashionable in Europe in the 1700s, identifiable particularly in furniture and architecture.  Some of the key features include highly ornamental decoration, the use of pastel colours and asymmetry.  In art, beauty and sexuality are often celebrated.

In England, this was a time when there was a certain joie de vivre amongst the upper middle classes.  They showed off their wealth through indulging in the flamboyant and frivolous.   Their gardens became the playroom of the house: somewhere for Georgian folk to entertain and party.

And what does that mean at Painswick?

Our Garden is unique in that it is the only surviving garden of the rococo period which is open to the public.  The Garden is on the Historic England Register of Parks or Gardens of Special Historic Interest.  It was created at a time when garden design was in transition.  Previously, gardens had been formal, regular in layout and usually sited close to the dwelling.  Now they were light-hearted, flamboyant and even frivolous.  Features were included to surprise the visitor and make them smile. They were there to go into and enjoy. They became theatrical sets in which to hold lavish garden parties.

Painswick was in keeping with contemporary fashion for smaller landowners to create gardens to their own designs. It is experimental and fantastical in character and inspiration.  As a result ours has a unique feel. It is a symbolic landscape, squeezed into a valley, with deceptive vistas juxtaposed with serpentine paths and brightly coloured follies, of different architectural styles.

Whose garden was it?

Painswick's Rococo Garden was designed for the Hyett family, who bought and expanded Painswick House in the 1730s.  Charles Hyett was a wealthy attorney who suffered from asthma and moved to Painswick to escape the smog of Gloucester.  He named the house 'Buenos Ayres' but died soon after the House was completed.  It was his son Benjamin who created the fanciful garden in a hidden valley behind the House.

The Garden was designed to intrigue, impress and entertain, all within a comparatively small area.  Garden features catch the eye.  There are views through and out of the Garden and buildings in which to relax and while away the hours.

Benjamin Hyett asked local artist Thomas Robins to paint the Garden in 1748 and it is this painting which has been the source for our restoration since the 1970s.

What happened between then and now?

The rococo period was comparatively short as fashion moved on.  The English Landscape garden was growing in popularity and the establishment started to look down their noses at the perceived vulgarity of rococo.

The Garden was altered according to the taste of the time over the following 200 years, with the kitchen garden being the principal surviving element (though changed in shape).

It was after an exhibition of Thomas Robins' paintings that garden historians contacted Lord Dickinson, a descendent of Charles Hyett.  The Garden was a jungle, having been planted with timber after it was abandoned in the 1950s.  The historians saw the potential of restoring the country's only surviving rococo garden and with their encouragement, Lord and Lady Dickinson began an ambitious programme of work.  In 1984 work commenced in earnest and in 1988 they handed control of the restoration to Painswick Rococo Garden Trust and granted the Trust a long lease of the Garden.

Who looks after the Garden today?

Today Painswick Rococo Garden Trust is a registered charity (no 1107844) and exists to restore the Garden and to educate the public about it.

The Garden Trust is run by a board of trustees.

•   The Garden Director is Dominic Hamilton
•   Our Head Gardener is Roger Standley
•   Our Catering Manager is Clare Grant