Rhododendrons and azaleas at Emmetts Garden

Rhododenrons in bloom at Emmetts Garden, a National Trust property in Kent

With over 130 varieties of rhododendron and azaleas to be found at Emmetts Garden, there is always something new to discover.

Emmetts Garden's collection of rhododendron and azaleas is vast and stunning - a truly remarkable display of colour is revealed each spring. If you cast your eye out across the landscape in May, then nine times out of ten the colour will be rhododendron or azalea of some description.

The collection was started with Victorian owners, the Lubbock family, and their passion for these flowers remains evident today with varieties found throughout the grounds and gardens of Emmetts. Today, over 130 named varieties can be found as the collection has grown and grown over the years.

The collection of rhododendrons and Azaleas at Emmetts Garden also has a fantastic effect on the wildlife. Both types of shrub play host to many different butterfly and bee species, and also provide shelter for many birds across the garden, where they either take solace from the heat, or use the depths of the specimens for nesting sites too. Some butterflies use the underneath of some of the larger Rhododendron specimens to lay their pupa for the life cycle of caterpillars to butterflies.

Rhododendron cinnabarunum are just one of over 25 different species originating from China you can find at Emmetts Garden
Close up of rhododendron cinnabarunum growing in the South Garden at Emmetts Garden
Rhododendron cinnabarunum are just one of over 25 different species originating from China you can find at Emmetts Garden

What's the difference?

The difference between rhododendron's and azalea can be hard to tell but there are some key traits to look for that separate the two. Rhododendrons tend to be larger shrubs than azaleas and have larger leaves too. If you were to carefully look inside an azalea flower, you'll find they tend to have five stamen (the male reproductive organ), while rhododendron flowers will have ten.

The two are very similar however and these days azaleas are classed under the same umbrella as rhododendrons in terms of naming. Please do ask one of our talented gardeners or volunteers any questions if you spot them out and about and would like to know more.

Garden care

Typically, rhododendrons and azaleas come into bloom late spring, lasting into early summer, with May being the best chance to see them in full colour.

For a good flowering season, rhododendrons like a very wet season just before they come into bloom. This enables the plants to store up all the energy, allowing then for a good showing of flowers.

Alongside this natural boost, the outdoors team at Emmetts carry out a regular cycle of cyclical pruning after they’ve flowered in May. This helps to alleviate any tired or old woody stems from the main specimens. This also includes the lifting of the skirts, or underside branches of the rhododendron and azaleas to allow better air circulation and movement through the plants, which helps with mitigation of pests and diseases.

The team also makes a few passes through the rhododendrons throughout the year, taking off 'black buds' – a fungal spore disease – that stops the flower from opening and in return wastes all that energy from the main host species. If needed, treatment for white cell is carried out, should there be any outbreaks.

Views across the Kent Weald from Emmetts Garden

The South Garden project at Emmetts Garden

Emmetts Garden is a small site with big plans. Head Gardener, Matthew Scott has embarked on a long term project in the South Garden to restore this area of rare and exotic plants to its early 1900s glory.