ISSUE 95  |  Southern Gothic

A Gothic Garden Visit, Courtesy of the Mitfords

October 27, 2013 10:00 AM

BY Kendra Wilson

With a name like Batsford, the gothic pile situated near the town of Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire promises much and does not disappoint.

Batsford has an arboretum, and a tantalizing pedigree, having belonged to England’s Mitford family (minor aristocrats and major influences on 20th century culture). Algernon Bertram Freeman Mitford, whose creation it is, was an Eminent Victorian who knew a lot about trees. Memories, his best-selling book, is described by his granddaughter Jessica Mitford as “monstrously boring.” Fortunately the arboretum is anything but, even in dense fog when it’s hard to see anything at all:

Photographs by Kendra Wilson.


Above: Batsford is literally dripping in atmosphere. “Bertie” Mitford may have inherited a fortune but was not work-shy: he lived in China and Japan as attaché to the British Embassy and took careful note of botany and horticultural practices. He was also administrator of Kew Gardens and drew on the knowledge of the friends he made there while planning and planting the arboretum and the “wild garden” at Batsford. The place works because it was so artfully put together in the first place and amazingly, when his son David (“Farve” in Mitford lore) sold the estate after World War I, it fell into the right hands.


Above: Batsford Arboretum is home to a group of tree collections, including maples, shown here, and oaks, sorbus, magnolias, Japanese cherries, and pines. The bamboo collection was one of the first in the UK, inspired by the travels of Bertram Mitford (first Lord Redesdale).

David (second Lord Redesdale) and Sydney, parents of Nancy, Diana, Pamela, Unity, Jessica, Deborah and their brother Tom, were left a little short after paying death duties for Bertie, who had built the house less than 30 years before. After the end of the First World War they were forced to sell up, and moved across the Cotswolds to Asthall Manor, near Swinbrook.

Japanese maple and handkerchief tree at Batsford Arboretum, Gloucestershire

Above: The wife of the next owner after the Mitfords, Lady Dulverton, was very interested in the gardens around the house and planted some of the more impressive trees along the drive. Shown here: the green of Lady Dulverton’s handkerchief tree rubs along next to a Japanese maple.


Above: Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’, which has bronze leaves followed by pale pink flowers in spring. Also known as Beauty berry, a potted Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion‘ is £12.99 from Crocus. For US gardeners, a one-quart pot of Beauty Berry Profusion is $17.95 from Wayside Gardens. The planting of the wild garden in summer brings life to the arboretum when the trees are stealing the show.


Above: Acer palmatum ‘Elegans Purpureum’ hangs over the path. The wild garden and arboretum were in a state of neglect after the Second World War but the estate was inherited in 1956 by the second Lord Dulverton, who had absorbed a passion for trees, having grown up among the original collection. He instigated a new phase for the arboretum, and in the ’80s the Batsford Foundation was born. For a large selection of Japanese maple varieties, go to East Fork Nursery.


Above: Sorbus hupehensis ‘Rosea‘; a small potted version is £26.99 from Garden Supplies UK.

Fernleaf beech at Batsford Aboretum, Gloucestershire

Above: Fernleaf beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Asplenifolia’).

Rosehip of Rosa moyesii at Batsford Arboretum, Gloucestershire

Above: Flagon-shaped scarlet hips of Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’.

Although the wonderful trees are well-labeled and beautifully grouped, there is an informality which is key to the spirit of the place.


Above: Before Lord Redesdale tackled the garden, he tackled the village. The church and houses were rebuilt to be more in keeping; a lodge is nestled by the gates here. For more foggy English gardens, see Season of Mist: Ben Pentreath’s Dorset Garden.

N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published Oct. 24, 2012.