diamond geezer

 Saturday, April 22, 2017

Richmond Park is gorgeous. But at its heart, especially at this time of year, is an even more gorgeous bit.

The Isabella Plantation.

40 fenced-off acres, initially to keep the deer out, and opened to the public in 1953.

Imagine a glorious woodland garden, with a swirl of paths through the trees, and a fork of ornamental streams to follow. But at this time of year it's even better, because now is when the rhododendrons do their thing.

The Victorians did like their rhododendrons, to the extent that some within the garden are now being removed as an invasive species. But the remainder are much treasured for their blooming display, a riot of pinks and whites and purples and reds.

A crack team of gardeners is employed to keep it pristine, though never formal, and they do a truly excellent job. Come wander between the bushes, across the lawns and through the glades. Best bring a camera too, because there's many a dazzling vista you'll want to share, or stand in front of and share if that's more your thing.

Evergreen azaleas have burst forth all over; Hatsu-giri (crimson-purple), Joe Maddon (speckled pink), Atalanta (soft lilac), Sylvester (rosy red), to mention but a few. The plantation is also home to the National Collection of Wilson 50 Kurume Azaelas, and they've yet to peak, but they'll be splendid too.

Expect to be drawn towards the water features for their reflective properties. To Thomson's Pond for a vivid walkabout. To Main Stream for trickling weirs and unfurling ferns. To Peg's Pond for waterfowl and shrubbery. And most especially to the Still Pond, behind which spreads an astonishing bank of magenta flowers almost crystalline in formation.

The Isabella Plantation is naturally a popular spot, much loved, and many a horticulturalist makes a late April pilgrimage each year. But a lady visiting for the first time offered perhaps the best review when she spoke to me a couple of minutes after her arrival.

"Wow!" said the nun. Just wow.

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