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A corner of the Far East in the Cotswolds.

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. Spotted orchids follow on later in the year.

The biggest crowd-puller at the moment is the spectacular Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrate), which is covered in thousands of snow white bracts. You'll need to move fast, though, too see it in its glory. The Davidia is one of the largest of its type in the country but it only flowers for three weeks in late May/early June.

Not surprisingly, the trees and the rich native flora means there is an abundance of wildlife at Batsford.

Badgers, foxes and muntjac deer roam the atmospheric glades. There are three species of bat, woodpeckers and tits, spotted flycatchers and Mandarin ducks.

The Wills family (Lord Dulverton) bought the estate after the First World War and continued to plant some of the larger trees. From 1956, the second Lord Dulverton increased the number and variety of trees. Today, the Batsford Foundation is run as a charitable trust.

Batsford and its inspiring backdrop is one of a quartet of gardens playing a key role in a "green offensive" as part of the Cotswolds Rural Capital of Culture campaign.

In addition to Redesdale's legacy, Painswick Rococo Garden, Abbey House Gardens and Mill Dene Garden represent some of the Cotswolds' horticultural highlights.

The gardens are being used to illustrate the depth of the area's cultural heritage, namely its long association with arts and crafts, through an exciting treasure trail. Visitors are being challenge to crack a series of puzzles and stand the chance of winning a bespoke sterling silver charm bracelet.

By visiting each of the gardens, and then answering four simple questions, participants can win a bracelet worth more than pounds 700, which has been designed and made locally by Chipping Campden's Guild of Handcraft member Caroline Richardson (www.carolinejewellery.

co.uk). Caroline graduated from The School of Jewellery in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter in 2004 with a first class honours degree in jewellery and silversmithing. The charms on her specially designed bracelet have all been inspired by the "fab four" gardens.

Visitors to the Cotswolds have from now until the end of September to enter the competition, full details of which appear on the website www.cotswolds.

com.

n For more information about the individual gardens, opening times and ticket prices, go to www.batsarb.co.uk, www.rococogarden.org.uk, www.abbeyhousegardens.

co.uk or www.

milldenegarden.co.uk

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The Foo Dog at Batsford
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:May 22, 2009
Words:854
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