Whilst it’s always sad to say goodbye to the bluebells, even before the last bell has faded we can now start embracing bold, bright and brassy rhododendrons right across Sussex! Rhododendrons always strike me as being slightly audacious and I have to confess to being fascinated by them from bud to bloom. I think it’s the way the buds slowly burst out of a neat pear-shaped package into a frenzy of delicate flowers and vibrant colours. So, with this in mind, as I have been haring about Sussex, I’ve been keeping my eye out for the best in bloom.
So here they are, my best places to see rhododendrons in Sussex, some of which are paid places to visit, some of them are free walks and some of them are drive-bys!
Merlin’s Wood, near Petworth
From Petworth head south on the A285 over the Beam Pump bridge. After a couple of miles, turn right and after roughly two miles you’ll find a car park at Lavington Common on your right. Lavington Common is an area of heathland but if you take the Serpent Trail east and go across the heath towards Duncton Common, you’ll come to Merlin’s Wood. Explore a little and you’ll find some fabulous alleys of rhododendrons juxtaposed with vast pines and the occasional glimpse of fantastic views across the countryside to the north.
The Sussex Border Path, near Rudgwick
This featured in last’s week’s West Sussex walk and you’ll find this alleyway of rhododendron blooms on the stretch of the Sussex Border Path between Warnham and Rudgwick. It’s just before the Sussex Border Path crosses the road at Rowhook and is a rhododendron delight.
South Lodge and Leonardslee, near Horsham
The South Lodge rhododendron is pretty famous. It’s 120 years old and is believed to be one of the oldest in the UK. This year it bloomed early in late March! If you haven’t got a good excuse to visit South Lodge itself, there is actually a footpath that you’ll find just north of the entrance to the hotel. The path runs along the edge of the hotel’s grounds where there is a veritable wall of rhododendrons and if you keep going, you’ll eventually come to Nuthurst which has a great little pub. Alternatively, Leonardslee (just up the road from South Lodge) is also well known for its fantastic collection of rhododendrons and azaleas.
The road from Handcross
If you take the B2110 from Handcross past High Beeches and towards Turners Hill, you can enjoy rhododendrons for free as they line the road. Many years ago (24 to be precise) there was an incredible “rhodie” in the grounds of Highley Manor (just off the B2110 heading towards Balcombe). I really hope it’s still there! Alternatively, try the woods at Nymans at the other end of Handcross.
Wakehurst and Borde Hill, near Haywards Heath
Mid Sussex takes you into a cornucopia of rhododendrons, and both Wakehurst and Borde Hill have fantastic displays and are well worth a visit. Think vast banks of hedonistic colour.
Sheffield Park, near Uckfield
Sheffield Park is always alive with colour and they have 1,000 spectacular rhododendrons letting off a sweet fragrance and admiring themselves in the lake.
I am aware we’re a bit short of rhododendron hotspots in East Sussex, so if you know of any, please let us know and we’ll check them out. In the meantime, if you like this Best Places to See Rhododendrons in Sussex feature, you may also like:
The Botanical Gardens at Wakehurst Place
Romantic Nymans Gardens
Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens