A Corner of the Far East in the Cotswolds

Article excerpt

tanding on a manicured outcrop of the Cotswold Hills, the casual observer could be forgiven for thinking they had been transported magically to one of Tokyo or Kyoto's majestic gardens.

The Evenlode Valley and Moreton-in- Marsh lie in the near distance but the immediate vista is more Oriental than chocolate-box Gloucestershire. Daffodils nod their heads by the base of a well-proportioned construction with a sloping tiled roof, conceived by its designer as a "harmonious building with a deep veranda commanding the main view southwards out of the park." The building in question is a Japanese rest house, the ideal place for weary travellers, or day-trippers, to take shelter. Visitors are sure to be safe inside: an ornamental dragon sits atop the roof, to ward off evil spirits. An extract from an ancient Chinese poem is emblazoned by the door, the characters on the side panels translating as: "Better to eat without meat than to live without bamboo."

The building is one of the fascinating Oriental flourishes at Batsford Arboretum.

On a bright, late spring day, it is an idyllic place to stroll or sit and simply admire the wonders of nature and man's ability to enhance and nurture rather than pollute and destroy.

The arboretum, which is home to one of the largest private collections of trees in the county, is a Victorian gem, designed and planted in the late 1800s by Lord Redesdale. Redesdale trotted the globe in his work for the Foreign Office, holding postings as British Embassy attache to Japan, China and Russia. At one time, he was based at the British Embassy in Tokyo and was deeply interested in Oriental culture and the relationships between philosophy and the natural world.

Redesdale, who administered the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew as Secretary to the Ministry of Works, was heavily influenced in his design for Batsford by the natural groupings of plants, particularly within the Chinese landscape. It is no coincidence Batsford holds the national collection of Japanese flowering cherries and of its largest tree collection, maples, of which it holds 187, some 88 are Japanese, seen at their best in the spring and autumn.

The Far Eastern theme is continued in eye-catching sculptural work, including a rare bronze statue of Buddha, imported in 1900, Japanese deer and the fabulous bronze Foo Dog, resting its great paws on a multi-coloured cloisonn enamel globe.

Elsewhere within Batsford's 56 acres there are English oaks, birches, spruce, pines, mountain ash and mighty "champion trees," the largest of their type in Britain, including a large eucalyptus, or Spinning Gum, near the lake, and a Californian Nutmeg.

Wildflowers carpet the gardens and spring is a great time to catch the primroses, wood anemones, forget-me-nots and bluebells. …