Joseph Chamberlain’s hobby of collecting exotic orchids is well known but he was also keenly interested in another genus with striking brightly coloured flowers. Rhododendrons were planted extensively at Highbury from 1879 to 1904 and many specimens still delight visitors in May and June. However, there are no lists of what was planted or planting plans for specific areas and none are labelled.
We commissioned a report (from Lear Associates) on the Highbury Rhododendron collection, which has now been completed. Over one hundred specimens have been identified and mapped in six areas of the grounds and some interesting discoveries have been made. The collection includes several cultivars that are no longer commercially available, and these could be propagated for planting in new beds at Highbury where rhododendrons were originally planted, and for distribution to other gardens with historic collections. In the rhododendron garden around the lookout there are three specimens of a cultivar that may be unique to Highbury and which Lear Associates had not seen before and which does not feature in any records or descriptions.
When Joseph Chamberlain was Colonial Secretary, he received two consignments of rhododendrons from Kew, those sent in 1899 have survived but the eleven cultivars sent in 1904 are not evident. However plants of =R. ponticum in certain areas could be the reverted rootstock of these cultivars and could provide a guide for replanting.
A study day on the Highbury Rhododendrons will be held at Highbury (also known as Highbury Hall) on May 17 2019 – further details will follow.