A Magical Place


I have always loved rhododendrons.  From an early age I remember playing hide and seek inside old specimens at Saville Gardens which was close to my family home.  The flowers are everything I like in a flower – blousey, exotic, bright but it is also the whole structure of the plant that delights me.  I should clarify that I am talking about mature specimens here not the neat dwarf tidy examples that are now prompted for the small garden or to grow in pots if you don’t have the right soil.  It is the strange peeling bark, the twisted and contorted branches, the large glossy leaves I  love.  As a small child they were magical to be in and my imagination has been caught ever since.

Recently I have had a longing to see some large rhododendrons again.  I have missed them since we moved here in 2000.  Although they will grow in this area and you see many examples, including one or two smaller ones in my own garden, I think I was looking for somewhere that would bring back the excitement and wonder I remember as a child.  I had read about the Dorothy Clive  Garden in Shropshire but its a 3 hour round trip and seemed a little far.  Then I remembered that Hergest Croft in Herefordshire had rhododendrons.  I peered at the photographs on their website and decided that this might be the place for me and only a 2 hour round trip.


Hergest Croft is the home of the current President of the RHS, Elizabeth Banks and unsurprisingly the horticulture is of a high level.  There is a wonderful rock and pool garden where masses of ferns were unfurling and all sorts of other delights but I knew the rhododendrons demanded a 20 minute walk out of the garden proper, across a field full of gamboling lambs and finally through  beech wood.  Hergest Croft whilst  being well-known isn’t that well visited.  I suppose it’s a bit of a trek for many people being on the English/Welsh borders and so I doubt there were more than 20 or 30 people visiting on Sunday afternoon and I only encountered one or two during my walk to Park Wood, where the rhodendrons were.


I passed through the beech wood (top photo) and the bright sunlight was illuminating the leaves giving a wonderful iridescent glow.  The birds sang and it was just me out exploring.  Then as my map indicated I was getting closer there were glimpses of bright colour high up in the tree canopy and I mean high.  I am no judge of size and distance but I would say 30ft at least in some cases.  This is somewhere where you have to look up above you as much as in front, to the sides and down.


As you enter the rhododendron area there is a large pool which is fed by a small stream trickling down the hillside.  The water then exits the pool by a small waterfall and continues down the side of the hill. So if you can imagine the silence only interrupted by bird song, running water and the occasional breeze through the trees.  At this point I felt quite overwhelmed, ridiculously so.  I felt transported back to the emotions I had experienced as a child.  Here I was surrounded by vast, giant, enormous rhododendrons, smothered in flowers – it was magical and the walk was certainly worthwhile.


If you have ever visited the Lost Garden of Heligan and been bowled over by the hidden valley where there are vast tree ferns and palms and you feel like you have stumbled on a lost world then this is similar except with rhododendrons.  The fanciful part of my nature wondered if what I was seeing was anything like the planthunters experienced when they discovered the rhododendrons in the mountains and valleys of China but then I heard a distant voice of another visitor and I was brought back to  the here and now.


The map takes you on a loop round the main rhododendron area on either side of the stream and you see gunnera emerging from its winter break, sunk cabbage with its yellow flowers just appearing under vast elephant ear like leaves.  The ground  is littered with fallen flowers but also with last year’s fallen leaves and in at least two areas these had decayed slowly and become leaf skeletons which was quite a strange site.


I took so many photographs and few, if any, do the wood justice or give a sense of the size and scale of the plants.  I don’t know how long ago they were planted but the current custodians are the third generation and I think I saw a plaque commemorating 100 years of the garden.

Sadly the heat of the day started to get to me and a cooling drink beckoned so I walked back through the shimmering beech wood, past the lambs who were frolicking this time and returned to the formal gardens.


You know you are in the formal gardens as you pass through a set of these rather superb wrought iron gates.  The tree behind them, an acer I think, was also lit by the sun and was being much photographed.  I could have gone on to visit the azalea glade but the flowers were only just opening and to be honest I didn’t want to dilute my rhododendron experience.  I did however visit the kitchen garden and orchard on my way to the car as I had really liked this part of the garden when I previously visited with Michelle (aka Veg Plotting) some years ago – we had decided it was as we imagined Mr McGregor’s veg garden to be.  This time early in the season it was the spring bulbs in the ancient orchard that stole the show and I will try to remember to show you those later on.

Suffice to say that I hankering to find some vast rhododendrons in order to relive my childhood memories has been satisfied.  I will be going back maybe later this year to see the acers in the Autumn but I will definitely be going back soon.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Linda says:

    Lovely series…especially that last photo.

  2. oh this took me back, i went to secondary school in Kington and we would run this as our cross country run route! it’s beautiful isn’t it. great to find you in blog wolrd, i am about to start my own garden and add it onto my blog, you will inspire me x

  3. Yvonne Ryan says:

    How peaceful and tranquil – On my ‘wish list’ also in NZ Otago around Dunedin famous for rhodos and also amazing ones around Taranaki (New Plymouth) – It isn’t peace and tranquility around here today as two Woofers from Hungary – the window cleaner and my chair arriving – a lady looking at my appartment for her parents over Jan -now the tree guys to do topping, palm fronds chomping up for mulch with a very noisy mulcher thingy – might escape for a walk on a quiet beach. (over 20 to choose from – as a peninsula and depending which way the wind you choose a sheltered one – altho’ no wind and blu blu day. Rain and hail forecast for later but I can’t see it!

  4. Holleygarden says:

    How wonderful to be able to retrieve some childhood memories with a garden tour. I do love large, mature rhododendrons full of blooms. They don’t grow here, but whenever I do get to see them, their majesty is a bit overwhelming, so I can certainly understand your emotions. How nice that you found a garden where you can see them in all their splendor.

  5. It was a very lovely walk about. Your photos were so beautiful and tranquil. I am so blessed to have gardens that are closer, within ten minutes of my home that have mature rhododendrons. I didn’t grow up with them, but I have them now.

  6. Pauline says:

    Thank you for bringing back happy memories, we have visited Hergest Croft a couple of times when we have either been on holiday in the area or passing, neither time was at rhododendron time though. Rhodos are magnificent when they grow so huge, no wonder you thought you were a plant explorer! Lots of gardens in Devon and Cornwall have ancient specimens where you can lose yourself and imagine that you have been transported to a foreign land. So glad your visit brought back memories of your childhood.

  7. djdfr says:

    “Sadly the heat of the day started to get to me” None of that here yet.

    If you are ever in Brittany at this time of year, there are some lovely gardens with rhododendron–Château de Trevarez and Boutiguery, for example.

  8. Annette says:

    Hi Helen, thanks for a beautiful tour. Evokes quite a jungle feel…been to Bodnant many years ago and am still dreaming of the wild-ish woods with Rhododendron, Azalea, Meconopsis…never gardened in soil suitable for such folk but enjoy seeing them in other gardens.

  9. alison rayner says:

    I enjoyed ‘walking’ through the woods with you and your lovely accompanying photos. It reminded me of pleasant times spent with my late Dad, walking amongst forests in Snowdonia, where there were always masses of rhododendrons growing wild.

  10. I have read about this place and would love to see it.

  11. bridget says:

    A beautiful tranquil place for a day out. The Rhododendrons are just coming into flower here.

  12. Rhododendrons grow well here and some properties have huge ones from the 1930’s at least. I just answered your comment on my blog and coincidentally, was talking about azaleas and Rhododendrons I will be featuring from Winterthur and Jenkins Arboretum. They are blooming here now and making quite a show. You are right, they make a space magical when they throw out all that color. Like fairies came along and lighted the paths. Hergest Croft is a wonderful place. It seems in that pond photo to be what was once called a Wild Garden here. Planted to look natural.

  13. Cathy says:

    Lovely indeed, Helen, and of course the perfect time to visit – there’s always that ‘oh if only..’ when you visit a garden with huge rhododendrons but at a different time of year 😉

  14. Oh Helen this is indeed magical….it is like a dream and I am smitten with it!

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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