What to see in May
The Spring flowering at Leonardslee started in February and goes on through to mid-June.
The first flowers to appear are the Camellias, the towering Magnolias and some of the larger leaved Rhododendrons and Pieris bushes with their lily of the valley-like flowers, new red shoots. At ground level the large shows of daffodils are now over, whilst other spring bulbs carpet the woodland floor
From April the Rhododendrons and Azaleas have flowered throughout the garden. There is so much to see, it really needs several visits to take it all in. It is lovely to see the trees with their new growths, following all the clearance work and cutting back - and especially the Acers with their feathery new leaves of many different colours.
On the ground, the carpets of English Bluebells have come through in sheltered places heralding the grand show in May and June. These few months offer an amazing show - including the 60 foot high Rhododendrons, some of the finest anywhere.
Spring Rock Garden
For many, the Ornamental Rock Garden is the jewel in the crown of the estate and is not to be missed at this time of year.
Built in 1890 by the Victorian landscaping company James Pulham & Sons, it is particularly notable for its beauty now.
James Pullen & Sons specialised in the construction of natural rock gardens. They combined large rocks and a special concrete-like material called Pulhamite to create a natural setting. They look so authentic that it takes a careful eye to tell what is genuine Cretaceous sandstone and what is 125-year-old Pulhamite.
Many varieties of Kurume azaleas from Japan were planted among the rocks, with groups of vivid purple rhododendron Amoenum and dwarf forms of the Norway spruce Picea abies all creating a kaleidoscope of colour.
The Rock Garden also includes three groups of palm trees. Two clump-forming varieties of the Chusan palm are unique to Leonardslee.
There is a superb Rhododendron Yakushimanum from the mountainous island of Yakushima in Japan. With pink buds opening to snow white flower, it is worth close attention.
At the main crossroads of the Rock Garden, a large specimen of Azalea ‘Hinomayo’, with its bright pink flowers, is expected to reinforce its status as one of the most photographed plants in the garden.
A Chinese lantern tree, Crinodendron hookerianum, overhangs the rocks. It bears crimson lanterns in May but is traditionally vulnerable to severe winters. Nearby, Rhododendron Augustinii offers something different with its outstanding, bright blue flowers.
Many other dwarf rhododendrons and azaleas provide a dazzling spectacle, ensuring the ornamental gardens are a firm favourite when in full bloom.
Cold winters have little effect on the azaleas, but even just a small frost at the end of April or early May can impact the gardens.
Near the centre of the Rock Garden is a statue, called The Twin Naturalists, depicting the younger brothers of Sir Edmund Loder, Sydney and Eustace.
When the Streeter family announced their intention to open the famous gardens once again, the Rock Garden was one of the first areas that the team of gardeners and arborists inspected.
Having been largely left to nature for the best part of a decade, the once manicured Rock Garden had become so overgrown that pathways had in places been entirely overcome by plants. After months of careful cultivation and management, it now looks as good as ever!
Next Month: June - Rare shrubs and trees come into flower; see the Wisterias that climb 80 foot trees; Palm trees flower with their bright yellow sprays; and more!