The Rhododendron Wood at Leith Hill

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Spring time shades and heavenly scents. The Rhododendron Wood, with its bold and blowsy springtime display, forms part of the larger Leith Hill estate which is looked after by our rangers and volunteers.

The creation of something special

The Rhododendron Wood was created in the late 1800s by Caroline Wedgwood of the illustrious pottery family who lived at nearby Leith Hill Place. A keen plantswoman and botanist, Caroline was the eldest sister of Charles Darwin who would visit Leith Hill and walk in the woods.

Grand entrances

By planting up two fields with rhododendrons and azaleas, many of which were specimens brought back from Asia, Caroline helped to create one of the most beautiful entrances to a home in Surrey as the main carriageway to the front door of Leith Hill Place passed through the wood.

The National Trust looks after the wood

In 1944 the Rhododendron Wood was left to us by its then owner, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. The great storm of 1987 caused severe damage to the wood; many mature trees and shrubs were destroyed and one of the major concerns was the amount of light now able to reach the floor of the woodland. Rhododendrons and azaleas thrive in shady positions so several hundred trees were planted to help re-establish the partial shade.

Ancient and foreign specimens

Caroline Wedgwood's knowledge and understanding of plants means that we have been left a legacy of some very old and rare specimens of plants and the wood boasts some ancient species of rhododendron native to the Himalayas, China and Thailand. The R.falconeri is native to North India and the similarities in climate between the north Indian sub continent and south east England mean that this variety grows well at Leith Hill.

High hopes

Some of the tallest rhododenrons to be found in the Rhododendron Wood, R.arboreum, are tree-like with bright ruby red flowers.

The Wellingtonia, or Giant Redwood, stands on the edge of the wood. Long lived and soft barked, this specimen is thought to be at least 150 years old. Another species of tree which has made its way over from the United States is the Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipifera. This huge specimen, thought to be the third largest in England was probably planted 250 years
ago. It boasts tulip shaped flowers in June and July.

From early spring to summer, a riot of colour

One of the earliest varieties of rhododendron to flower in February and March is R.glischroides. It has rare, pink flowers that cast a gentle glow over the landscape and offer a sign that spring isn’t far away. Watch out, its shoots are bristly. Other specimens come into their own as they flower through April, May and June.