Gathering seeds for the future at Leith Hill

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This autumn we've started working with Kew's Millennium Seed Bank to help them harvest rare and unusual seeds as part of their 2013 seed-gathering programme.

Six other National Trust places in the south east have been involved in the project, which aims to preserve seeds from important horticultural collections.

Seeds from internationally important places such as Leith Hill, Sissinghurst Castle, Sheffield Park, Nymans, Winkworth Arboretum and The Vyne Estate will be gathered over the course of this autumn.

Why Leith Hill?

Leith Hill’s Rhododendron Wood has been selected for seed banking its enormous Falconer rhododendron, Rhododendron Falconeri, probably planted in the 1860s.

Also to be harvested are seeds from the third largest tulip tree in England, and the rare Rhododendrons Glishroides and R. Eliotti.

Volunteer Jo Pitty has been trained at Wakehurst Place (home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank) to collect and check seeds for viability.

Each rhododendron seed head contains hundreds of miniscule seeds that fly away in the wind. We have to catch them on a dry afternoon just as they open.

Visit the Rhododendron Wood

The Rhododendron Wood is on Tanhurst Lane in Coldharbour, RH5 6LU. Parking is free for National Trust members or £3.50 otherwise.

Why not make a whole day of it and climb up to Leith Hill Tower, where there are marvellous views of the Surrey and Sussex countryside?

Leith Hill Tower and the Rhododendron Wood are open every day.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Autumn is a wonderful time to visit the Rhododendron Wood. The azaleas and acers turn beautiful copper, bronze and reds. The heart-shaped leaves of Cercidifolius in burnt purple and crimson are a delight and the dawn redwood in the car park turns a lovely foxy russet.

Walking across the parkland to Leith Hill Place, you'll pass the spectacular liquidambar tree shot through with fiery reds, purple and oranges.

Feathered visitors

Flocks of fieldfares and redwings arrive from Scandinavia for the winter to feast on the bountiful fruits of our hedgerows and woods. This means it's important to gather as many seeds as possible before they get eaten.

Check out the new bird hide on the edge of the rhododendron wood meadow for blackbirds, bramblings and thrushes feeding on apples.