The Rhododendrons at Bowood in Wiltshire are in full flower at the moment – and they are so enormous, luscious and colourful that the effect is quite overwhelming. The gardens were planted in 1854 by the Marquess of Lansdowne, who was later Viceroy of India from 1888-1894 and travelled in the Himalayas where he would have seen rhododendrons in their natural habitat. He continued to add to the collection until his death in 1927.
The garden was extended eastwards in the 1960s, and continues to be added to today, with a broader remit to include magnolias, azaleas and species. But the rhododendrons remain at its core – there are even around thirty original hardy hybrid species which were until recently thought to be extinct.
We followed the Walk of the Week, the pathways leading us through woods carpeted by bluebells with vast mounds of frothy pale pink ‘loderi’ rhododendrons (left & above right) punctuated by brighter hot pink varieties such as ‘currieanum’ (below right).
The garden centres on the Robert Adam designed family mausoleum of 1761 which commands a spectacular view through the trees and flowers across the Wiltshire landscape.
While the larger plants form mountains that merge together, some smaller rhododendrons stand alone and shower their petals onto the grass in a bright blue or blood red shadow.
There are beautiful ivory coloured magnolias in the main garden, while in the Jubilee Garden – which Lord Lansdowne and his gardener, Bill Goddard, began to create nine years ago – there is an exquisite magnolia called ‘Michelia Gails Favourite’ with little white cups bursting out of red-brown buds (right).
Near the entrance are the similarly subtle but entrancing flowers (or rather, bracts) of the Cornus ‘Ruth Ellen’, their greeny-white petals seeming to dance in the breeze (below).