To many people rhododendrons are a common sight in our parks and gardens, as British as cream tea on a summer’s day. But think again – many of our beloved rhodies are in fact Asian, just like that traditional cuppa!
Bodnant Garden is famous for its rhododendron collection and we’re holding a month-long festival to celebrate the foreign plant which has found such a place in the hearts of British gardeners. From April 17 to May 22 there will be walks, talks and workshops.
The plants you see at Bodnant today have come a long way from their native habitats and have a fascinating story to tell about the history of British gardening. Many were brought back by Victorian and Edwardian plant hunters who braved hostile terrain, disease and war in their pursuit of this ‘new’ shrub.
Rhododendron ririei, a species rhododendron grown in Bodnant Garden from seed collected by plant hunter Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson in the early 1900s. It flowers early, in February and March.
Rhododendrons are native to Asia, America and Australia but most are found in the Himalayas. Britain went rhododendron mad in the late 1800s when they were first brought back from China by intrepid plant hunters and soon they began to fill our stately homes, public parks and back gardens. Bodnant Garden’s owner in the early 1900s, Henry McLaren, was an avid plantsman who sponsored these botanical expeditions. He was originally advised not to plant rhododendrons because it was thought they were too exotic but it turned out they were well suited to the Snowdonian landscape!
Rhododendrons in all colours, shapes and sizes…Rh. albrechtii, ‘Rh. ‘Narcissiflorum’ and Rh. stenopetalum ‘Linearifolium’
Rh. ‘Varna’, Rh.’Janet’ and Rh.’May Day’
He bought a collection from famous plant hunter Ernest Wilson in 1908 which forms the basis for the thousands in the garden today. In 1917 he employed George Forrest to bring back many more; McLaren and his head gardener Frederick Puddle began breeding Forrest’s rhododendrons to create more than 350 hybrids, called the Bodnant Bloody Reds for their rare colour.
Today Bodnant Garden has one of the finest collections of species and hybrid rhododendrons in Britain which brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to the garden each year. The spring display is just incredible – all colours of the rainbow, some as big as trees and some as small as heathers, and ones suited to all terrain. So come along and learn more about this surprising and ‘exotic’ plant – or just enjoy the show.
Bodnant Garden property administrator Rose James among the rhododendrons
Rhododendron Festival (no charge but booking required)
April 17: A History of Bodnant Rhododendron Hybrids, guided walk, 2-3pm
April 24: Photographing Rhododendrons, workshop by award-winning local photographer Pierino Algieri, 10am-12pm and 2-4pm.
May 1: Choosing Rhododendrons for your garden, masterclass at 2pm.
May 8: Propagating Rhododendrons, workshop with Bodnant Garden Centre’s propagator, 10am- 12pm
May 15: The Plant Hunter’s Legacy at Bodnant, guided walk, 2-3pm with expert Ted Brabin.
May 22: Rhododendron and Garden Art, workshop with artist Hilary Leigh on sketching and painting, 10am-12.30pm