PLANS for a £2.5 million visitor and education pavilion at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Arboretum were unveiled this week.

Subject to planning permission, work on the project is due to start this spring and will be finished in time for the golden jubilee of the gardens, at Ampfield near Romsey, in 2003.

The single-storey, low-profile pavilion, with a gull-wing shaped roof, has been designed by Hampshire County Council architects to be as unobtrusive as possible. It uses a lot of glass and features a central courtyard.

"When you enter the pavilion you will feel that you are in the gardens," said director Simon Milne.

"It looks to the north, with fine views towards Braishfield. "We wanted the building to blend into the landscape. "It is a very clever design, not run of the mill. The architects spent a lot of time to get a good quality and attractive building."

The pavilion will cover an area of 1180 square metres and will provide interpretation, catering, retail and ticketing facilities and improved provision for the gardens' expanding education programme.

Two classrooms are planned, which can be turned into one lecture room when required and there will be a "wet" classroom, or laboratory for botanical education.

"Here children, and adults, too will be able to make a mess," Simon Milne said.

The pavilion will include lavatories for children and adult visitors. Providing good clean lavatories is essential for any visitor attraction, said Simon.

Built to be environmentally friendly, the pavilion is designed so that rain water can be collected for recycling. "The gardens use a lot of water and we want to maximise any water we can capture ourselves," Simon said.

An important aspect of the building will be the interpretation area. This will provide information on the layout and contents of the garden so that visitors can plan their visits and take in whatever is of particular interest to them.

There will be an overview of the history and aims of the gardens, which, in the words of Simon Milne, are "more than just a collection of plants."

"The pavilion will maximise the gardens' role for education, conservation and bio-diversity, not just in what we are doing in terms of conservation and preservation but to show the urgent need to protect the plant kingdom."