How to grow Catherine’s Great Gardens

Catherine’s Great Gardens

Catherine the Great ascended the Russian throne in 1762 and became the most powerful woman in all of Europe.

Her reign heralded The Golden Age of Russian nobility and her palaces, with their fine gardens, were jewels of the Russian Empire.


South side view of the grand façade of Catherine’s Palace from the parterre garden. The façade is nearly 1km in circumference, with elaborately decorated blue-and-white and with gilded atlantes, caryatids and pilasters.


Catherine the Great had a flair for the dramatic. Her two palaces, Catherine’s Palace and Pavlovsk Palace are a testament of her love of extravagance and grandeur. These two palaces near St Petersburg, together their gardens and parklands, are striking, imposing and completely ostentatious, but remain her legacy of fine art and architecture.


Grand façade at Catherine Palace, named for Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great, who ruled Russia for two years after her husband's death. Originally a modest two-storey building commissioned by Peter for Catherine in 1717, the Catherine Palace owes its awesome grandeur to their daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who chose Tsarskoe Selo as her chief summer residence. Starting in 1743, the building was reconstructed by four different architects, before Bartholomeo Rastrelli, Chief Architect of the Imperial Court, was instructed to completely redesign the building on a scale to rival Versailles.


The palace and park ensemble Pavlovsk was created in the age of Russian classicism of the late 18th - early 19th centuries.


Catherine's Palace

Catherine’s Palace was built as her summer palace. Brandished in blue and gilt, this lavish Rococo palace is home to great state rooms, with views to the formal French-style gardens. The gardens or parklands were originally built in Dutch style, but were later remodelled by Scottish architect, Charles Cameron, according to English taste.The empress had a love affair with romantic English landscapes, as declared by her letter to French poet, Voltaire:

"I love to distraction these gardens in the English style ­– their curving lines, the gentle slopes, the ponds like lakes. My Anglomania predominates over my plantomania.”


Grotto Pavilion on the Great Pond, Catherine’s Palace.

Pavlovsk Palace could rightly be described as the jewel in the crown of Russian classicism.


Catherine spent every birthday and summer here. She asked Cameron to build her a private gallery separate from the main palace, so she could view the garden on all sides of the building. Beyond the view from the palace is The Hermitage, a discreet blue miniature of the massive formal edifice. Here, Catherine enjoyed privacy and secret liaisons. Elegant feasts were raised up to her quarters on a lift device.

Russians treasure this beautiful ensemble of palace and parkland because it was a favourite haunt of their revered poet, Pushkin, who captured its beauty in epic verse.


Marble Bridge designed by Charles Cameron in the Great Park at Catherine’s Palace.


Temple of Friendship in Pavlovsk Park, architectural masterpiece was a gift from the future Emperor Paul I and his wife Maria Feodorovna to his mother, the imperious Empress Catherine II. Historians have spilled much ink on the complex relationship between Catherine and her son Paul. Nevertheless, the young couple took the wise step of building the Temple of Friendship as an official thank-you to Catherine II for bestowing these lands upon them, hinting at their desire for a less fractious family life.


Pavlovsk Palace - a magical parkland

Carolyn Dwyer, Ross Tour Leader remembers her visit to Pavlovsk.

It was early afternoon when we arrived at Pavlovsk, the palace that Catherine had built for her only child, Paul. It’s yellow render glowing in the sunshine and the park in spring leaf looking cool and inviting. The palace is imposing as only Russians know how to create. Our local guide advised that we skip the hundreds of grand rooms and head straight for the gardens. As we strolled into the shade, a jaunty little carriage pulled by a frisky pony came towards us. We wanted to step on board and pretend we were Catherine the Great riding around her estate on this glorious day. The gardens have stately pavilions designed by Cameron and bridges over the lake where there are gorgeous views of a colonnaded temple. With the coolness of evening came a gentle mist across the water and a sense of mystery.


Cameron Gallery. Catherine instructed Cameron to create a colonnade for strolling and philosophical discussion, and the result was this supremely elegant building that stands perpendicular to the east wing of the Catherine Palace. Designed to offer the best possible views over the surrounding park, and especially the Great Pond.



Come With Us 


Graham and Sandra Ross will host this summer journey across Scandinavia, from Copenhagen to Stockholm. Take the ferry to Helsinki and Tallin, and train to finish in St Petersburg. Sophisticated and poetic, it’s a romantic ride, 13–30 June 2021. Details at or call us 1300233200.


Related Articles

Leave a Comment

Help us prevent spam and type what you see below.

Captcha Image


About this article

Author: Sandra Ross and Carolyn Dwyer