We visit Batsford Arboretum and find out a little more about the history and plans for the future at this award winning collection of trees and shrubs in the Cotswolds.
On my first visit to Batsford Arboretum recently I was completely taken aback by the sheer beauty of the place. From the entrance gates of the long drive with the glimpses of the ‘wooded’ hillside, to the wide grass rides and being surrounded by magnificent specimen trees in all directions.
Marketing Manager Susie Hunt met me in the recently completed visitor centre and cafe building that sits so well within the original walled garden. She told me some of the history and philosophy of the site and I was then introduced to Stuart Priest, Operations Director and Mathew Hall, the Head Gardener. Each of these people not only had wealth of knowledge about the arboretum but also a real commitment to it and everything that is going on within it.
History of the Garden
The history of the Batsford estate goes back many centuries with the big house being remodelled on several occasions. The twenty hectare arboretum was started in the late 1800’s by the estate owner of the time, Lord Redesdale. He travelled the world as a diplomat for the Foreign Office and spent many years at the British Embassies in China and Japan.
These postings started his live long passion with the orient, especially the landscape and its plants, becoming an authority on the many species of bamboo found in these countries. On his return to the UK he continued his government work with special responsibility for the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London. Here he knew successive directors and gained valuable advice and guidance for starting his tree collection at his Batsford home. Some of these original trees can still be seen as part of the magnificent treescape in the arboretum.
Lord Redesdale created some of the landscape features we can still see today, including the recently restored six hundred meter long artificial stream that flows down through pools, over waterfalls and cascades, under red Japanese pedestrian bridges and the driveway stone bridge on its way to the lake below the big house.
Lord Redesdale’s Japanese interest can be seen here
with the Japanese style bridge that spans the restored stream.
This rare bronze statue of Buddha was imported from the
Far East in 1900 and forms a striking feature amongst the specimen trees.
Following the death of Lord Redesdale and several owners, along with the dramatic decline during the second war, the collection was almost lost. However in 1956 the 2nd Lord Dulverton inherited the estate. He had grown up on the estate from a young age and soon began his lifelong passion for trees and started work on the restoration of the arboretum. With his extensive knowledge of trees he devised a long term plan so that all new planting was carefully considered regarding the species, the local climate and how the aesthetic value of each plant would add to the overall visual effect.
The results of Lord Dulverton’s work are still evident, the many group tree plantings giving structure and scale with their contrasting shapes and colours positioned to give dramatic views in all directions and from points around the site.
One of the fine views looking between the mature trees out over the house to the distant hills of Gloucestershire
Many of the original trees are now mature specimens and help frame the open spaces of mown, or rough grass that provide the most stupendous vistas not only within the garden but also out to the surrounding countryside.
Another spectacular view of the surrounding wooded countryside is from the ‘view point’ at the top of the hill. Looking out from here you can observe the clever design concept of the ‘borrowed view’; this is achieved to such good effect because of the number of trees visible which allows the arboretum to appear to flow into the landscape and therefore becoming connected with its surroundings.
Batsford attracts in the region of sixty thousand visitors a year, a large proportion of these come to see the autumn colours, this imbalance of visitor numbers during one period not only puts great pressure on the infrastructure for this short period but would impact on the income if the weather were to be poor during the autumn and visitor numbers low.
With this important aspect in mind the team have been actively carrying out new planting schemes to extend the horticultural interest into other seasons. More than ten thousand spring flowering bulbs and many herbaceous plant varieties have been planted over the past few years to give even more interest for visitors. On my visit in June the carful management and planting of some un-mown grass areas was allowing a beautiful display of wild flowers including many orchids.
These areas set within the trees are not only visually attractive but create habitat and feeding resource for many wildlife species, these areas combined with the many summer flowering shrubs added greatly to the overall effect of the arboretum.
Another area of long grass provides good habitat for wildlife.
Much of the charm of this arboretum is that it is not to enormous, despite the fact that many of the trees are huge, the place is on a scale that is personal and there are very few signs or arrows telling you what to do, or what not to do. It is possible to wander the many paths and explore at leisure. Susie Hunt comments that “Batsford is an intimate place, you can get close to the trees, it is not too big.”
With a small team of full time staff and the Batsford Foundation as the custodians, this great collection of trees is in safe hands for future generations. The recent additions of the visitor centre, Garden Terrace Cafe, retail shop and garden centre will help draw in more visitors.
It is possible to wander at leisure and get close to the trees.
Another benefit will be visitor numbers increasing during the spring and summer months to see the wonderful seasonal plant displays. It is worth considering that Batsford is not just for autumn – it has all year round interest.