What happened to the rhododendrons?

Rhododendron bushes at Fell Foot

Our old rhododendron beds are getting a new lease of life. We’re planting flower meadows to create bursts of colour throughout the park. These wildflowers will also provide a good quality, long lasting nectar supply for insects throughout the spring and summer, and we hope to encourage more bats and birds to live here.

What happened to the rhododendron bushes?

Back in 2009 a proportion of rhododendron plants were diagnosed with an incurable fungal disease called Phytophthora ramorum. All of the plants affected were removed – as is required by law – and those free of the disease were left. 

Over time however, the areas where the old bushes once stood left the surviving rhododendrons exposed to the wind and their canopies acted as sails, lifting the roots and making them unstable. Unfortunately we can’t replant the area with the same species due to the high Phytophthora risk.

Could nothing be done to save them?

The decision wasn’t one taken lightly and we kept the rhododendrons for as long as we could. There were two factors at play – the size of the bushes; over the years they had grown much larger than is usual for the species – and their shallow roots; they’d also grown in soil which is very close to bedrock and their roots were no longer able to support their size.

Opening up historical views

When the rhododendrons were originally planted they would have been small, squat specimens that framed the villa as seen from the lake without impacting on the view from the villa up to the Fairfield Horseshoe.  Over time they had grown so large that any view from the house lawn was lost. That original vista has now been restored, just as Colonel Ridehalgh intended.

View of 'The Lost Villa' at Fell Foot, taken from the other side of the lake, showing the rhododendron bushes as they were intended to look
'The Lost Villa' at Fell Foot
View of 'The Lost Villa' at Fell Foot, taken from the other side of the lake, showing the rhododendron bushes as they were intended to look

What are you doing with the bare areas that are left?

The rhododendron beds are getting a new lease of life; we’re planting flower meadows to create bursts of colour throughout the park. Not only this, but they’ll also provide a good quality, long lasting nectar supply for insects throughout the spring and summer, which in turn will encourage bats and birds to live here. If you come back later this summer, we hope you’ll notice the lawns looking different.

Preparing the ground before planting the flower meadow seeds
Preparing the ground for planting flower meadows
Preparing the ground before planting the flower meadow seeds

Other benefits…

These new plants will also help with Fell Foot’s soil health. Rhododendrons change the soil chemistry, reducing the number of insects which live in the ground and the presence of healthy fungus. Healthier soil means better drainage which will improve our problem with waterlogging on the lawn over the winter months.


Why are the old rhododendron beds cordoned off?

In preparation for the meadow planting, the beds have been sprayed to kill any grass which would compete with the new seeds. These areas have been fenced off with green mesh to give the seeds a chance to grow.


How old were the plants?

The rhododendrons were originally planted in the 1880s by Colonel Ridehalgh who owned the villa which once stood here, as well as the park surrounding it. It’s likely they would have been chosen for their colourful display early in the year whilst everything else is still dormant, and they were fashionable at the time. 


If you have any further questions about the conservation work happening at Fell Foot, please email fellfoot@nationaltrust.org.uk.