Joseph Chamberlain’s hobby of collecting exotic orchids is well known. Sadly, the orchids were sold soon after his death and most of the glasshouses demolished by 1922. However, 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.
The Gardeners’ Magazine of April 18 1903 commented ‘Rhododendrons are extensively planted, the common forms in shrubberies and by the lakeside and the finest named forms filling large irregular beds. Many of these beds are grouped on and around a sharp dip on the eastward side of the grounds, the grassy slope leading down to a small pond planted with aquatics.’
Regrettably the article did not expand on the names of the rhododendrons nor did any other of the numerous articles on Highbury that appeared from 1885 to 1904. None of the collection is labelled, and probably never was.
The Chamberlain Highbury Trust commissioned a survey of the rhododendrons, which was carried out in May-June 2018 by Michael & Beverley Lear of Lear Associates from Oxford. They identified and mapped over a 100 rhododendrons dispersed in six areas of the garden.
An interesting fact has emerged from the survey – Chamberlain received two consignments of Rhododendrons from Kew during the period when he was Colonial Secretary. Find out more about the Rhododendron Collection at Highbury…