As spring approaches, buds fatten in readiness for spectacular displays at RHS Partner Gardens around the UK. We spoke to three Partner Gardens about their collections of rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias and cherries - don't forget your camera!
Bodnant Garden, Conwy
Bodnant Garden is a springtime treat, with its superb collections of magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias in an idyllic setting with views over Snowdonia.
In March, camellias are out in force all over the garden.
‘We are famous for our 'Bodnant Bloody Reds',’ says the garden's Fran Llewellyn. ‘The earliest were brought over by plant hunters Wilson and Forrest in the early 1900s and were quite new to Britain at that time. Over the years we have had a hybridisation programme, and now have around 130 Bodnant hybrids.’
There are more than 1,000 magnolias in the garden – Bodnant holds the National Plant Collection of Magnolia species. The oldest, a Magnolia campbellii, was planted in the 1880s; the tallest is a specimen of M. x veitchii, planted near the garden entrance.
Be sure to visit the Yew Dell, opened to the public for the first time in spring 2013. This tranquil wooded area is reminiscent of a Himalayan valley, with its streamside plantings of mature rhododendrons and hydrangeas overhung by oak, ash and magnolia.
‘It is also home to many rare Bodnant Hybrid rhododendrons, some found nowhere else in the garden, and some grown from seed collected by famous plant hunters George Forrest and Frank Kingdon-Ward,’ says Fran.
Star plants to look for:
Camellia x williamsii ‘Charles Puddle’, named after the former Head Gardener of Bodnant, and founder of the International Camellia Society.
Camellia japonica ‘Akashigata’ (formerly known as ‘Lady Claire’). This is a Bodnant 'signature plant', widely planted throughout the garden, especially on the streamside bank behind the Pin Mill.
Magnolia denudata: In mild weather, the pure white, chalice-shaped blooms begin to appear in late March (pictured above). Find specimens en-masse around the edges of the Tennis Lawn.
Magnolia campbellii subsp. mollicomata has huge blousy pale pink flowers. There are some very old and large specimens dotted throughout the garden.
Magnolia dawsoniana: This pretty pink magnolia has an unusual scent.
Rode Hall, Cheshire
In spring, Rode Hall's Woodland Garden is ablaze with a large range of rhododendrons.
'We have too many rhododendrons to list but of particular interest is the James Russell planting of the 1960's, featuring magnificent Loderi crosses, R. 'Old Port', R. thomsonii and R. rex,' says owner Richard Baker-Wilbraham.
Since then, many more rhododendrons and azaleas have been added to the wild garden and raised rockeries, designed by John Webb in the early 19th century.
The collection includes early-, mid- and late-flowering cultivars, ensuring a long season of interest. R. 'Fortunei', 'Auriculatum' and 'Polar Bear' add an extra element, too, with their scents.
'Among our large early rhododendrons are 'Smithii Group' and 'Nobleanum Group'. For mid-season we have 'Cowslip Group', 'Double Damask', 'New Comet', R. augustinii, and I love 'Dora Amateis' for a smaller garden,' says Richard.
Rhododendron plantings are being extended into the Old Wood, meaning new treats for repeat visitors. New plantings here include R. glanduliferum, R. heliolepis var. heliolepis, R. pachysanthum and R. parmulatum 'Ocelot', some sourced from Glendoick Gardens.
Rode Hall's recommendations for smaller gardens
R. 'Cilpinense Group'
Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire
As a child, Claire Birch remembers playing games with the carpets of pink cherry blossom that settled on the croquet lawn at Doddington Hall each spring.
Today, visitors to her family’s Lincolnshire estate can also take pleasure from the confetti-like blossoms – especially picturesque is the 80m-long Cherry Walk (right), where recently planted Prunus ‘Tai-haku’ and P. serrula complement 55 year-old specimens of P. x yedoensis, P. ‘Kiku-shidare-zakura’ and P. sargentii.
‘For me the most magical place is the orchard with its informal display of apple blossom,’ says Claire. ‘I love the noise of the bees pollinating the flowers, and the thought that their work will bring us wonderful apples and juice.’
More about RHS Partner Gardens
RHS Partner Gardens offer free entry to RHS members (main cardholder) throughout their open period or at selected times. With 200 to visit in the UK and overseas, which one will you visit next?
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