Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

Spring Colour Watch Blog: rhododendrons with stories to tell

Posted: May 4, 2012 at 18:30 pm Author: Gina Mills

This week we have really been able to start to revel in the heritage of some of Westonbirt biggest and brightest spring blooms, the rhododendrons. All of the pictures in the blog were taken this week, from 30 April onwards.

RhododendronRhododendron 'Sun of Austerlitz'

RhododendronRhododendron 'Mary Hoogan'

Plant hunters such as Sir Joseph Hooker, George Forrest, Ernest Wilson and Joseph Rock introduced new species from China, Burma and Japan.

Rhododendron AzaleaRhododendron Azalea

The raising of rhododendron hybrids first started in the 1820s and boomed in the early 20th century as more regions of China and the Himalayas were explored and more species were discovered. The Holford family at Westonbirt were keen to keep up with the trend.



All around Savill Glade, Main Drive, Circular Drive and the start of Loop Walk, there is evidence of this zeal for collecting.

Rhododendron 'Blue Tit'Rhododendron

Many of the rhododendrons you'll come across have names that hint at their interesting origins, perhaps named after people, places or the plant hunters themselves:


Rhododendron 'Alison Johnstone' (pictured above) is named after the wife of George Johnstone, a horticulturalist who created the garden at Trewithen in Truro after he inherited the house there in 1904. He bred this hybrid, and was rewarded for his efforts with the RHS award of merit in 1945.


Rhododendron 'Kewense' (pictured above) is so called because it is one of many hybrids raised at Kew in the 1870s.


Rhododendron griffithianum (hybrid pictured above) originates from the Himalayas. Its namesake, William Griffith, was a botanist who collected more than 9,000 species in his career - according to his contemporaries the most by any single individual.

He is said to have been one of the first Europeans to visit the Himalayan region. During a life of many and varied occupations he was at one point director of the Calcutta Botanical Gardens.

These are just some of the stories behind our wonderful rhododendrons. With 800 species including the azaleas, the rhododendron genus is one of the largest. This gave great scope for hybridisation and the varied collection still enjoyed by our visitors each spring.

Useful links

More information about spring at Westonbirt

Become a member of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum