When my great grandfather bought the Rougham Estate way back in 1904, one of the main things that he was interested in was the garden of the hall with its famous rhododendron collection. Since the hall was destroyed by a bomb in September 1940, the gardens have been left to grow wild and sadly many plants have been lost and whole areas of the gardens vanished beneath sycamore trees and many other things.
One of the great survivors however has been the rhododendrons. Rougham Hall is located on a small outcrop of breckland acid soil which rhododendrons love, so even though they are not the type of plant that you would associate with Suffolk, they thrive in the park of Rougham Hall.
There is a particular rhododendron or to be more precise a small group of rhododendrons that together are generally called ‘the red rhododendron’. This group is found away from the others and in an area that never became overgrown. I don’t know the varieties but I do know that they are spectacular and they are at their very best just now. Early May is not just time for bluebells and orchids in Rougham but for rhododendrons too. This huge patch of brilliant red can be seen through plantations of trees, or from the driveway, blazing out its not so subtle presence to anyone passing by.
People worry about rhododendrons spreading into the landscape and becoming an environmental problem. As the park at Rougham is this island of acid soil, these shrubs don’t want to go anywhere else, so we can enjoy them in all their glory, heralding that magical moment when spring starts to think about becoming summer!
Photographs: © George Agnew