Rhododendrons at Sheffield Park and Garden

Sheffield Park is alive with colour as the 1,000 spectacular Rhododendrons come into bloom between mid-May and early June. Stroll through deeply fragranced corridors of rhododendrons with their larger than life flowers and twisting film noir trunks. Or enjoy a walk around the mirror-like lake, passing brilliant red and yellow blooms reflected back in the water. With so many species in the gardens, there is something new to see each visit.

by Peter Erridge

Rhododendron comes from Greek meaning 'rose' and 'tree' and is the national flower of Nepal. There are over 400 temperate region species and 300 tropical species with 28,000 cultivars. They range from large trees to low growing mats. 

All azaleas are rhododendrons but not all rhododendrons are azaleas. No clear cut lines exist to distinguish them, but azaleas usually have five stamens and rhododendrons have 10. Most rhododendrons are evergreen with clusters of large flowers in a wide range of colours. Azaleas are deciduous or evergreen with smaller leaves and flowers. 

This Northern part of Sussex has sandy soilds of an acidic pH that are very favourable to rhododendrons and explains our dramatic displays. 

Rhododendron and Azaleas of interest

Rhododendron 'Loderi' is a widely planted hybrid at Sheffield Park and was developed in the early 1900s by Arthur Soames’s friend Sir Giles Loder at Lower Beeding near Horsham. R. griffithianum pollen contributed the hardiness, vigour and beautiful bark whilst R. fortune the large flowers and scent. Five Loderi varieties were developed and all were planted at Sheffield Park, along with other less well known hybrids from Loder. Loder’s White is a hybrid and not related.  

Exbury, Knaphill Azalea hybrids have slightly larger flowers than the Ghent azaleas but lack scent. In Sheffield Park there are large beds of these to the North of Flint Road.

Sheffield Park has the National Collection of Ghent Azaleas. They differ from other groups by flowering slightly later and have fragrant honeysuckle like flowers. They were bred by a series of crosses using several types of North American rhododendrons by a baker living in Ghent, Belgium in the 1820’s.