Tag Archive: azalea

White Azalea- picture by Ellen Zillin

White Azalea- picture by Ellen Zillin

WP_20150515_11_05_33_ProOn our way home from Sussex last week, we manged to call in on two other National Trust properties. The first was Emmetts Garden, near Sevenoaks, Kent.

Though situated in a commanding hillside location, the garden is tucked away a bit, but we eventually found it after some tortuous lanes and slippery hill climbs! Our stay was short,but the garden didn’t disappoint- masses of spring interest, including a very attractive rockery with plenty of alpines on display. The Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Bluebells were also looking superb in the bright sunshine.

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Wikipedia describes the gardens:

‘Emmetts Garden was open farmland until 1860 when the present house was built. The name ’emmett’ is a local word for ant and refers to the giant anthills that covered the area until the 1950s. The house and land was purchased in 1890 by Frederic Lubbock, a banker and passionate plantsman. Lubbock’s elder brother was John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury, coincidentally a world expert on ants, which may have influenced his decision to purchase the property.

The gardens were initially laid out between 1893 and 1895 under the influence of Lubbock’s friend William Robinson in the fashionable Edwardian style popularised by Gertrude Jekyll. The shrub garden was added later in 1900-1908.

After Lubbock’s death (1927), the estate was acquired by an American geologist Charles Watson Boise. He made various alterations to both house and garden but retained the original character of the gardens…

The garden, which covers an area of about six acres (approximately 2.5 hectares), occupies a commanding site on a 600-foot (180 m) sandstone ridge, overlooking the Weald. One of the highest points in Kent, it offers expansive views towards the North Downs.

It is mainly planted with trees and shrubs in the form of an arboretum; a magnificent 100-foot (30 m) Wellingtonia fortunately survived the Great Storm. There is also a rose garden located next to the Victorian house to which the gardens once belonged.’

Further information: National Trust website

Old School Gardener

Rhododendron viriosum - picture by Brian Walters

Rhododendron viriosum – picture by Brian Walters

Just about now many of the heritage gardens of Britain are coming alive with Rhododendron colour. Rhododendron is named from the ancient Greek words for  “rose” (rhódon)  and “tree” (déndron). It is a genus of over 1000 species of woody plants in the heath family, and are either evergreen or deciduous. Most species have showy flowers. Rhododendrons are extensively hybridized in cultivation, and natural hybrids often occur in areas where species ranges overlap.They were introduced to the UK in the late 18th century from the Himalayas and China.

There are over 28,000 cultivars of Rhododendron in the International Rhododendron Registry held by the Royal Horticultural Society. Most have been bred for their flowers, but a few are of garden interest because of ornamental leaves and some have ornamental bark or stems. Recent genetic investigations have caused an ongoing realignment of species and groups within the genus. Horticulturally, rhododendrons may be divided into the following groups:

  • Evergreen rhododendrons: the main category

  • Vireya (Malesian) rhododendrons: these are tender shrubs

  • Azaleas (a section of generally small-sized, small-leaved and small-flowered shrubs), further divided into deciduous and evergreen hybrids. They are distinguished from “true” rhododendrons by having only five anthers per flower.

  • Azaleodendrons – semi-evergreen hybrids between deciduous azaleas and rhododendrons

Rhododendron luteum

Rhododendron luteum

Species names include:

R. arborescens = tree like

R. augustini = after Dr. Augustine Henry, famous 19th /20th century irish plantsman.,

R. balsamiaeflora = balsam-flowered, the double flowered florist’s balsam.

R. campanulatum = bell – shaped flowers

R. campylocarpum = bearing bent fruits

R. cinnarbarinum = cinnabar red

R. decorum = shapely or becoming

R. fastigiatum = fastigiate or erect branches taperign to a point

R. flavum = yellow (also known as R. luteum)

R. impeditum = twiggy branches

R. laponicum = of lapland

R. molle = soft or velvety, refering to the leaves

R. myrtilloides = myrtle – like

R. nudiflorum = naked flowered, i.e coming before the leaves

R. ponticum = Pontic, a  region of the Black Sea

R. rhodora = old generic name signifying rosy-red

R. russatum = reddened- the foliage

R. sutchense = from Szechuan

R.vaseyi = discovered by Mr. G.R. Vasey, 19th century botanist

R. viscosum = sticky or viscous

R. yunnanense = of Yunnan, southern China

Rhododendron ponticum

Rhododendron ponticum

The rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal, where the flowers are considered edible and enjoyed for their sour taste. The pickled flower can last for months and the flower juice is also marketed. The flower, fresh or dried, is added to fish curry in the belief that it will soften the bones!

Some species of rhododendron are poisonous to grazing animals because of a toxin in their pollen and nectar. Rhododendron is extremely toxic to horses, with some animals dying within a few hours of ingesting the plant.

People have been known to become ill from eating honey made by bees feeding on rhododendron and azalea flowers. Xenophon described the odd behavior of Greek soldiers after having consumed honey in a village surrounded by Rhododendron ponticum during the ‘March of the Ten Thousand’ in 401 BC.Pompey’s soldiers reportedly suffered lethal casualties following the consumption of honey made from Rhododendron deliberately left behind by Pontic forces in 67 BC. Later, it was recognized that honey resulting from these plants has a slightly hallucinogenic and laxative effect., the suspect rhododendrons being R. ponticum and R. luteum (also known as R. flavum). Eleven similar cases have been documented in Turkey during the 1980s. The effects of R. ponticum was mentioned in the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes as a proposed way to arrange a fake execution.

Rhododendron 'Lemon Dream'

Rhododendron ‘Lemon Dream’

Rhododendrons are grown for their spectacular flowers, usually borne in spring. Some also have young leaves and stems covered in a striking dense woolly covering (indumentum) and some – the deciduous rhododendrons or azaleas – have good autumn colour. Some species (e.g. Rhododendron ponticum in Ireland and the United Kingdom) are invasive plants, spreading in woodland areas replacing the natural understory. R. ponticum is difficult to eradicate, as its roots can make new shoots.

Sources and further information:


BBC video of Rhododendrons in the Himalayas

RHS- growing Rhododendrons

Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh – Rhododendron collection

Quizzicals: answers to the two clues given in Plantax 10…

  • Evader of women – Ladies Slipper
  • Oriental busybody – Japanese Medlar

..and 2 more cryptic clues to the names of plants, fruit or veg…

  • Where policemen spend their holidays
  • Feline relative

(thanks to Les Palmer, answers in the next Plantax!)

Old School Gardener

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Maples (Acers) provide glorious autumn colour in this Japanese style garden

Maples (Acers) provide glorious autumn colour in this Japanese style garden

Today’s ‘snippet’ on different garden styles focuses on a very distinctive form, ‘Japanese Gardens’.

Japanese gardens have a balance which is achieved through the careful placing of objects and plants of various sizes, forms and textures. These are placed asymmetrically around the garden and are often used in contrast – rough and smooth, vertical and horizontal, hard and soft. These gardens often create miniature idealized landscapes, frequently in a highly abstract and stylised way. Pruning and garden layout are usually considered to be more important than the plants themselves which are used sparingly and with restricted use of both different species and colours.

Historically, there are four distinctive types of Japanese garden:

  1. Rock Gardens (karesansui) or Zen Gardens, which are meditation gardens where white sand replaces water

  2. Simple, rustic gardens (roji)  with tea houses where the Japanese Tea ceremony is conducted

  3. Promenade or Stroll Gardens (kaiyū-shiki-teien), where the visitor follows a path around the garden to see carefully composed landscapes

  4. Courtyard Gardens (tsubo-niwa)

Other key features of Japanese Gardens include:

  • Typical Japanese plants – e.g. Azalea, Camellia, Bamboo, Cherry (blossom), Chrysanthemum, Fatsia japonica, Irises, Japanese Quince and Plum, Maples, Lotus, Peony, Wisteria and moss, used as ground/stone cover

  • Water features and pools

  • Symbolic ornaments

  • Gravel and rocks

  • Bamboo fencing

  • Stepping stones


Bonsai- literally meaning ‘plantings in tray’ – is a Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers. The purposes of bonsai are primarily contemplation (for the viewer) and the pleasant exercise of effort and ingenuity (for the grower). Bonsai is not intended for food production, medicine, or for creating domestic or park-size gardens or landscapes, though some people display their bonsai specimens in garden settings, as this video shows.

Let me know what you think makes a Japanese style garden, and if you have some pictures I’d love to see them!

Further information:

Wikipedia – Japanese Gardens

Pictures of popular Japanese plants

Japanese plants

Japanese Garden Database

Japanese Garden history etc.

Wikipedia- Bonsai

Other posts in the series:

Country Gardens

Modernist Gardens

Formal Gardens

Mediterranean Gardens

Cottage gardens

Old School Gardener

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IMG_5527We had a very enjoyable walk around one of our local ‘haunts’ on Sunday – Sheringham Park, in north Norfolk. I think we can honestly say that we’ve visited this beautiful landscape in all weathers – I recall the children sledging down some of the steep slopes in the snow and also the time we took some visiting friends there in the pouring rain!  Fortunately the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky on this latest visit.

The Park surrounds Sheringham Hall (privately occupied), but Sheringham Park is in the care of the National Trust and is open for visitors. The Park was designed by the famous Landscape Gardener, Humphry Repton, who presented his proposals in July 1812 in the form of one of his ‘Red Books’ – he showed ‘before and after’ fold – out images to illustrate the differences his design proposals would make. He described Sheringham as his ‘favourite child in Norfolk’ and he is buried in Aylsham Church, about 15 miles to the south. At the time he was in his later years and his star was on the wane, but this Park is described by some as his most successful landscape design. Abbot and Charlotte Upcher bought the Estate in 1811, and successive generations of the Upcher family did much to develop it, as well as the Hall and the park, and also built a school.

The landscape has been moulded to make the most of the natural hills and vales (formed by glacial gravels). Many of the trees are now of a very mature age and there is some evidence of felling or ‘natural topple over’ as they near the end of their normal lifespans. The Trust has done much new planting and maintains the ‘wilderness’ feel of some areas, along with mature woodland with glades and pools, surrounding heathlands (with interesting views towards the restored North Norfolk Railway, the coast and North Sea), plus all the elements of the romantic landscape around the House and its setting.

The woodlands also contain a large variety of rhododendrons and azaleas. In the early 20th century Henry Morris Upcher obtained rhododendron seeds of various types from plantsman ‘Chinese’ Wilson. Many other species of tree and shrub are represented in the park, including fifteen kinds of magnolia, maples, acers,styrax, Eucryphia, Davidia involucrata and a fine example of the ‘Snowdrop Tree’,  Halesia. Several outlook towers and viewpoints provide good views over the park and of the nearby coast and surrounding countryside. Recently a new ‘Bower Garden’ has been created which provides a wonderful den building area, enclosed seating area and widllife pond which had many tadpoles, pond skaters and the like on our visit.

If you visit you’ll also have the benefit of an interesting exhibition about Repton and the development of the estate, a number of marked walks plus all the usual National Trust attractions – I particularly enjoyed some Stem Ginger Ice Cream!

Old School Gardener

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