Tuesday 27 September 2016

In bloom this week... rhododendron

It's known as an invader, but everyone can enjoy the blooms of the rhododendron in their own garden

Leonie Cornelius

Published 21/06/2015 | 02:30

Rhododendrons in Powerscourt. Photo: Colin Gillen
Rhododendrons in Powerscourt. Photo: Colin Gillen

One of my absolute favourite places in Ireland, and possibly the world, is the stunning Powerscourt House and Gardens in Co Wicklow (powerscourt.com). It is truly hard to believe that this 1,000-acre oasis of woodland, spectacular mountain views and ancient parkland is on Dublin's doorstep.

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The amazing views of the Sugarloaf Mountain are breathtaking, and the whole area has an incredible feeling of tranquillity and calm. From the stunning Italian Garden to the exotic sunken Japanese Garden and the extensive herbaceous border, it is easy to lose oneself in the magical feel of the estate.

When we I arrived at the gardens, the annual tulip festival, which sees 10,000 tulips decorate the gardens, had just finished and the perennial borders in the walled garden were starting to come into their own.

One of the most spectacular parts of the garden is the Rhododendron Walk.

From tall, clouded shapes in purple that seem to soar towards the horizon to more delicate pink azalea varieties below, this wonderful walk is maintained to perfection by the estate's head gardener, Michael Byrne.

Most rhododendrons originate from the Himalayan regions of India, China, Burma and Tibet, but many azaleas - which are also part of the rhododendron group - come from Japan. The plant was introduced to Ireland in Victorian times and became popular on many country estates for its ornamental appeal as well as a cover for game birds.

As beautiful as it is, the rhododendron is a tricky plant to grow successfully in the garden. It is not a 'grow anywhere' plant, and though it may do reasonably well in neutral soil, it really needs an acidic soil to be at its best.

Sizes of this shrub vary massively, from tiny dwarf varieties to huge 18m-high trees.

Something vital to be aware of when choosing plants for your own space is that this plant is an invasive one - hugely so. Its spread from the garden into the wild is already posing a serious threat to our own native forests.

Consider planting a smaller variety of this shrub into a container. There are some very pretty azalea-rhododendrons that do very well in containers and have the same floriferous effect that is so beautifully displayed in Powerscourt's Rhododendron Walk.

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