Arboretum seems almost the wrong word for Batsford. True it has a far-reaching range of specimens, is a National Collection holder and is involved in important scientific research, but it’s so much more than that and there’s a sense of fun and a garden-like quality that makes it unusual.
Red painted bridges and a Japanese rest house lend an Oriental flavour, there’s a water garden with pools and streams, and glimpses of Batsford House, no longer part of the arboretum, give the impression of having wandered into a large garden.
“It’s more than an arboretum,” explains head gardener Matt Hall. “It’s not just about trees.”
Much of this dual personality is due to its past: originally part of the estate of Batsford House, it was developed as a wild, naturalistic garden by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, later the 1st Lord Redesdale. He was a keen plantsman who was particularly interested in the Oriental style of gardening and involved in the running of Kew; Joseph Hooker, one of Kew’s directors, was influential in Batsford’s development.
The creation of the arboretum, which wraps around the garden elements, is the work of the 2nd Lord Dulverton, who inherited in 1956 and set about restoring Batsford and introducing rare and beautiful trees, resulting in today’s specialist collections.
Yet, even then the garden element was influential and Batsford’s collections, which include Japanese flowering cherries, acers and magnolias, are not arranged in botanical groups but scattered throughout the 60 acres with an emphasis on planting for visual impact.
It means that at this time of year the autumn colour runs through the arboretum with shades of gold, crimson and pink in every direction, a style that is being continued with many new acers being planted.
As befits a serious collection, among the more commonly seen birch, oak, prunus and sorbus, with berries of white, pink or red, there are some more unusual specimens. These include the Chinese pistachio, Pistacia chinensis, which has good autumn colour, the Korean mountain ash, Sorbus alnifolia, and Disanthus cercidifolius, whose heart-shaped leaves are turning fiery colours.
Meanwhile, a pair of vines are adding flame red to the display and Matt is hoping newly introduced bamboo Borinda papyrifera, which has stunning steel blue stems, will eventually form an impressive clump.
Elsewhere, the team have been thinning trees and clearing the understorey to create both planting areas for new specimens and an increased feeling of space.
Arguably the most important trees are also the most easily overlooked. In an extension to the arboretum, which opened in 2010, are some that form part of the International Conifer Conservation Project, run by Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden and designed to safeguard species that are threatened in their native countries.
“It will generate a bank of material,” explains Matt.
Among those at Batsford are monkey puzzles from Chile, Nothofagus alessandri, one of about eight plants growing in Great Britain and the golden Vietnamese Cyprus.
They are found on the outer edges of the arboretum where another new development is taking shape. What was once a field is being planted up with a mixture of trees, including ash, acers and liquidambar. The centre is being left open with wild flowers and care has been taken not to obscure the long views that are one of Batsford’s strengths and something that makes it more than just a collection of trees.
• Batsford Arboretum, near Moreton-in-Marsh, is open daily, except Christmas Day from 10am to 5pm. Last entry at 4.45pm. More information at: http://www.batsarb.co.uk