Richmond's Secret Garden Stages a Ravishing Azalea Display
Visitors to Richmond Park, the 2,500 acre Royal park west of London, usually miss the fabulous Isabella Plantation. Unless you are in the know, it simply looks like a fenced off wood, not open to the public. And even when the garden is in full bloom, its brilliant displays are not visible from outside the fence.
Once an unpromising and boggy area of the park, the garden was established from the 1950s onward. It has three ponds and several different habitats spread over 42 acres. There is color and bloom throughout the year but my favorite season is early spring when the azaleas are glorious.
How to Find the Isabella Plantation
By Bus From Putney Station, catch the No.85 bus toward Kingston. Walk down Ladderstile Road to the Ladderstile pedestrian gate. Turn right on the park's ring road and walk uphill to the Broomfield Hill parking. A path across the road leads to the Plantation.
By Car The Broomfield Parking Lot is between the Robin Hood and Kingston Gates.
Find on the park map
In early spring, from mid April to mid May, the Isabella Plantation at Richmond Park presents a luxuriant display of azalea plants, in every imaginable color.
Blended Azalea Shades
Among the garden's treasures, a national collection of rare Azalea shrubs.
The Isabella Plantation has 15 known varieties of deciduous azalea as well as the national collection of fifty Kurume Azaleas. These evergreen Japanese azalea were brought to the west by plant collector Ernest Wilson around 1920. The garden also has 50 different species of rhododendron and 120 hybrids. When the azaleas and rhododendrons bloom the spectacle is unforgettable.
Hatchlings at the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park
When the azaleas are in bloom, the newest hatchlings are just taking to the water.
The ponds, shrubs and trees of the Isabella Plantation at Richmond Park harbour a wide range of park wildlife.
Waterfowl include pintail, tufted duck, pochard and mandarine ducks. There are also redpoll, bullfinch, woodpeckers, sparrow hawks and tawny owls. Visiting birdlife changes with the seasons. Birdwatchers may spot wood warblers, redstarts and whitethroats, blackcap and spotted flycatchers, green sandpipers, siskin and reed buntings.
Early Spring in the Isabella Plantation of Richmond Park
The colors and textures of the azaleas and rhodendendrons in the Isabella Plantation offer a different vista around every twist in the paths. This show in April and May is so spectacular that it is easy to forget the garden offers other pleasures year round.
Camellias, magnolias, daffodils and bluebells bloom in early spring. Japanese iris and day lilies bloom vividly in the summer. Come autumn, colorful berries on the guelder rose, rowan and spindle trees compete for attention with the brilliant red of the Japanese maples. And because of London's relatively mild climate (it rarely freezes or snows), visitors can look forward to early camellias and rhododendron as well as mahonia, flowering heathers in the winter.
One plant most Americans will be surprised to see is what the English call "stinking hellibore". In the USA, particularly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, it's a common weed. Most people know it as skunk cabbage.
Free Guided Walks
Richmond Park's gardeners offer free guided walks of the Isabelle Plantation throughout the year. Check the Isabella Plantation website for the schedule.
Magenta Azalea in Richmond Park
Velvety azaleas in a wide variety of colors are among the glories of Richmond Park's Isabella Plantation.