Leith Hill Rhododendron Wood Walk
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. By planting up two fields with rhododendrons and azaleas, many of which were specimens brought back from Asia, Caroline created a beautiful entrance driveway to her home at Leith Hill Place.
The modern-day Rhododendron Wood
In 1944 the Rhododendron Wood was bequeathed to the National Trust by Caroline Wedgwood's grandson, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. On 16 October 1987 the wood suffered severe damage during the Great Storm, losing many of its mature trees and shrubs. Much of what you can see today is a result of initial clearance and extensive restoration work.
Rhododendron Wood Car Park RH5 6LU
Start your walk from the Rhododendron Wood car park. Walk left out of the car park and follow the main path. As you reach the end of this path and prepare to turn right, look ahead and up to see one of the wood's Wellingtonia trees. Otherwise known as the Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum), this tree is over 150 years old and its planting is believed to have been commissioned by Caroline Wedgwood. Its location suggests that it formed a feature along the main driveway to Leith Hill Place.
The redwood family of trees have thick spongy bark that protects them from forest fires.
Following the path downhill, look to your left to see a magnificent Coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). This species of tree holds the record for being amongst the tallest in the world. As with the Wellingtonia that you have just seen, it is likely that this planting was commissioned by Caroline Wedgwood along the driveway to Leith Hill Place.
Home from home
The Coast redwood is a native tree of the Pacific coast of the United States of America. The climate at Leith Hill must suit it as it has flourished in this spot for over 150 years.
Just beyond the boundary gate of the Rhododendron Wood and into the parkland surrounding Leith Hill Place is a bit of a record-breaker. This tulip tree (named for it's tulip-shaped flowers) has been dated to 250 years old and is one of the oldest known specimens in the country. It pre-dates the Rhododendron Wood and would undoubtedly have been admired by Charles Darwin when he visited Leith Hill Place.
A tulip tree for all times
A tulip tree sapling has been planted in the Rhododendron Wood (it is easy to spot, covered in a deer guard) to ensure that there is always such a tree growing here for future generations to enjoy.
This pathway is lined with two distinct types of rhododendrons; Rhododendron 'Winsome' and Rhododendron macabeanum. Winsome produces red flower buds in the winter months and many cerise blooms each June. Macabeanum has large leaves and flowers pale yellow blooms. The left hand side of this pathway is lined with azaleas.
Did you know?
Azaleas shed leaves and rhododendrons are evergreen?
The dominant plant along this stretch of the walk is Rhododendron arboreum. This is a founding plant of the rhododendron wood and its vast size and spread suggests that it was planted by Caroline Wedgwood when the wood was begun. This rhododendron is native to the Himalayas, China and Thailand but thrives in our climate.
Another distinctive rhododendron along this stretch of the pathway is Rhododendron macabeanum. Native to India, this plant has boasts silvery new leaves, with a woolly underside. Red buds appear and large pale blooms follow soon afterwards.
Rhododendron Wood Car Park RH5 6LU
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