This weekend we took advantage of a dry day to explore Painswick Rococo Garden, near Stroud in Gloucestershire. This garden is famous for its fascinating and unique rococo buildings and for its amazing display of snowdrops in the winter.
It’s the perfect place for families to explore on a cold winter’s day. Read on to see what there is to discover in this fairytale garden.
What is a rococo garden?
Rococo honestly isn’t something that I’d heard of before looking for things to see in the Cotswolds in January. It turns out that rococo is a style of architecture popular in France and Italy in the 1700s. At Painswick, this translated into several little pavilions, water features and buildings scattered through the garden at Painswick House. It was pretty out there for a British garden at the time, and still is really, as it’s the only surviving example in the UK.
The garden was originally created by Benjamin Hyett, who lived in Painswick House, as a place to entertain and amuse his friends. A rococo garden was an informal place and full of eccentricities. However, the rococo fashion was short lived and the garden fell into disrepair before being cleared and restored in the 1980s. Today Painswick Rococo Garden is managed by a charitable trust which maintains the pavilions and the grounds.
What to see at Painswick Rococo Garden in winter
Snowdrops in late January and early February
January isn’t usually the month that you’d visit gardens in the UK – the trees are still bare and even the crocus aren’t out yet. But at Painswick, half of the garden, a wooded glade, is covered in a carpet of snowdrops.
We timed our trip to try to catch the snowdrops at their best and we weren’t disappointed. I’ve never seen so many in my life – they are stunning and guaranteed to help get rid of the winter blues.
At full bloom (just a couple of days away) there are meant to be over 5 million flowers here, covering almost every square inch of ground. You’ll find several different species – see if the kids can spot the differences.
This part of the garden is a lovely place for children to run through the interlinking paths, looking for pavilions and woven structures to play in. It doesn’t have the feel of a garden as such, more a well kept piece of woodland with marked trails. Through the bare trees you can get glimpses of the Cotswold countryside outside of the garden.
The rococo pavilions are spread throughout the garden. In winter it’s easy to spot them but they’re probably much better hidden in the summer. They are small, ornate buildings and several are pastel coloured according to the rococo fashion. I wasn’t expecting to be able to go inside them but you can explore inside all of them.
The Cub’s favourite was the pastel pink Eagle House, which was the first building we found. At first it looks just like a small single storey room, but when you turn the corner and walk down the hillside the Eagle House reveals itself to be more of a miniature tower. I can see that rococo wasn’t meant to be taken seriously!
The Red House, at the top of the garden, is the most interesting building here. As you approach it, you can see two gables and you expect there to be a third, but asymmetry is also a rococo feature. Its walls are a deep burgundy and the door arches must have been inspired by Moorish architecture. It looks like something you’d find in the woods in a fairy tale. The kids loved the stained glass windows and peering through them across the garden to the snowdrop grove.
There are several more, smaller rococo buildings along the woodland trail. The kids had a lovely time exploring them all, and it was a great way to keep their interest. We spent a good couple of hours at the garden and the kids were on the go the whole time.
Woodland sculptures and other things to find
Adding to the fairytale feel of Painswick Rococo Garden are the wooden sculptures found along snowdrop grove. A fallen tree has been carved into a castle and further along the trail there’s an owl hidden in a tree surrounded by giant conkers – perfect for kids to find.
There’s often a themed trail for kids to follow at Painswick so check to see what’s on when you visit.
Other things to look out for include a fun maze with three different centres – make sure you walk up the hill behind it to see it from above. Up here there’s also a viewpoint over the Cotswolds (a bit dreary when we looked – I expect it’s stunning in summer).
There’s also a crystal clear plunge pool which you can dip your toes into if you’re feeling brave. In January, we were decidedly cowardly and left it well alone.
As lovely as the rococo buildings and the snowdrops are, if you’re four years old nothing can compete with a good play area.
Walk through the snowdrop grove and over the brow of the hill and you’ll see the play area in front of you, overlooked by the Pigeon House. The play area appears to be brand new and was a huge hit with our children.
Our kids were enchanted by the tower you can climb. For slightly older children there’s a swing and climbing and balancing equipment. We decided not to risk the rickety plank bridge, although it did look like fun. While walking through the area we noticed that new paths are being built so fairly soon there’ll be more garden to explore.
And if you walk up the hill towards the Pigeon House you’ll also get a great view of Painswick House itself.
We had a fantastic afternoon here – it was well worth going for the snowdrop display and the rococo buildings were enchanting. We’ll definitely be back – I’d love to see how different the garden looks in the summer.
Painswick Rococo Garden: Know before you go
Getting there and away
Painswick Rococo Garden is just outside the town of Painswick Gloucestershire, in the heart of the Cotswolds. The nearest large town is Stroud. It’s easy to reach and well signposted. The postcode for your satnav is GL6 6TH.
The garden is open every day from mid-January to October. Opening times vary so double check on the website before you go.
If you’re going in the winter the trails can be muddy so you’ll need wellies. We didn’t take a buggy with us but I’m not sure you’d get one along all the paths so a baby carrier would be more suitable.
You can get your tickets on the door. Adults cost £7.50, children £3.60 (or you can get a family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children for £20) and it’s free for kids under 5.
There’s a gift shop and a plant shop too – I’m going to be back in the summer to stock up my own garden.
Where to eat
Painswick Rococo Garden has a cafe just by the entrance. On Sunday lunchtime it was busy but we still managed to get seats. We initially went for cake but ended up having a meal too. You can choose from soup and sandwiches, jacket potatoes, burgers and more.
There are lots of vegetarian and vegan options which was great – the soups were vegan and so were some of the cakes. I saw a bean burger on the menu and my jacket potato came with a delicious home made ratatouille. So we’d recommend saving some time for lunch here. The chocolate brownie was a particular hit with the kids.
Have you been to Painswick Rococo Garden? What’s your favourite season to go?
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