Gardener prunes England's biggest rhododendron bush as it blooms just in time for end of lockdown 


England’s biggest rhododendron has bloomed and is looking bigger and better than ever – just in time for the end of lockdown.

The magnificent bush has grown since last year and is now so large that a double decker bus could fit inside it.

Ordinarily it would attract enthusiasts from around the world. But due to the covid pandemic the hotel whose grounds it sits in are shut.

But that all changes next Monday with the planned reopening of the hotel’s spa; and the rhododendron – dubbed ‘shrubzilla’ in the past – is putting on its annual display just in time.

Blooming with red and pink flowers, the bush is located in the grounds of the South Lodge Hotel in Horsham, West Sussex.

Typically rhododendrons grow no more than 6ft high but this one – planted by Victorian explorer Frederick Du Cane Godman around 120 years ago – has expanded dramatically over the years.

England's biggest rhododendron in West Sussex has bloomed and is looking bigger and better than ever - just in time for enthusiasts to come and visit with the end of lockdown restrictions for the hotel where it is planted

England’s biggest rhododendron in West Sussex has bloomed and is looking bigger and better than ever – just in time for enthusiasts to come and visit with the end of lockdown restrictions for the hotel where it is planted

Named 'The Big Rhodey', the bush in the grounds of South Lodge Hotel in Horsham, West Sussex has grown since it was last measured, and is now so large that a double decker bus could fit inside it

Named ‘The Big Rhodey’, the bush in the grounds of South Lodge Hotel in Horsham, West Sussex has grown since it was last measured, and is now so large that a double decker bus could fit inside it

Pictured: Gardener Eloise Mercer takes a selfie with England's largest rhododendron bush. She said: 'It's definitely a big attraction. This is the first year that I've actually seen it flower because last year we were on furlough. When you come in and see it in full bloom it does take your breath away'

Pictured: Gardener Eloise Mercer takes a selfie with England’s largest rhododendron bush. She said: ‘It’s definitely a big attraction. This is the first year that I’ve actually seen it flower because last year we were on furlough. When you come in and see it in full bloom it does take your breath away’

When it was last measured in 2017, 'Big Rhodey' was 30ft high and 40ft wide but Mr Collins hasn't got his tape measure out in a while. With its continued growth it is believed a double decker bus could fit beneath its flowers

When it was last measured in 2017, ‘Big Rhodey’ was 30ft high and 40ft wide but Mr Collins hasn’t got his tape measure out in a while. With its continued growth it is believed a double decker bus could fit beneath its flowers

The huge arboreum smithii, also known as the Old Cornish rhododendron species, has been affectionately nicknamed ‘The Big Rhodey’ by hotel head gardener Paul Collins and his team.

The 51 year old, who maintained the plant for the past ten years, said: ‘Its definitely better than last year. Who knows why – its nature isn’t it!

‘It does like rain in winter and the past year hasn’t been too frosty. It’s been a good combination of a hot summer last year, a fair amount of rain during winter and then a fairly nice spring. All that has helped it come along.’

When it was last measured in 2017, ‘Big Rhodey’ was 30ft high and 40ft wide but Mr Collins hasn’t got his tape measure out in a while: ‘It’s a few years since I measured it but you could easily fit a double decker bus in there. It’s huge!’

Mr Collins, from Horsham, said the big bush is fairly low maintenance as even using a hose pipe on full blast would not water the roots due to the plant’s size: ‘You let nature take its course – it’s just so big.

‘A large fully grown oak tree drinks 40,000 litres a day of water and that bush is bigger or about the equivalent to an oak because the leaves are wider so there must be a fair amount of liquid going through that plant.

With the relaxation of some pandemic restrictions next Monday, the hotel spa will be reopening and to get to it, customers will have to drive right past 'Old Rhodey'

With the relaxation of some pandemic restrictions next Monday, the hotel spa will be reopening and to get to it, customers will have to drive right past ‘Old Rhodey’

Typically rhododendrons grow no more than 6ft high but this one - planted by Victorian explorer Frederick Du Cane Godman around 120 years ago - has expanded dramatically over the years

Typically rhododendrons grow no more than 6ft high but this one – planted by Victorian explorer Frederick Du Cane Godman around 120 years ago – has expanded dramatically over the years

Head gardener Paul Collins, 51, who maintained the plant for the past ten years, said: 'Its definitely better than last year. Who knows why - its nature isn't it!'

Head gardener Paul Collins, 51, who maintained the plant for the past ten years, said: ‘Its definitely better than last year. Who knows why – its nature isn’t it!’

Explorer Mr Du Cane Godman, a Cambridge scholar, planted the bush after his family bought the hotel and its grounds in 1883 and was fascinated by horticulture

Explorer Mr Du Cane Godman, a Cambridge scholar, planted the bush after his family bought the hotel and its grounds in 1883 and was fascinated by horticulture

‘It just grows bigger and bigger each year. This is the big beast rhododendron.

‘I’ve had to take away smaller plants and other rhododendrons so that this one has got more rooms to grow. Sometimes they’ve been completely engulfed by the big one.’

With the relaxation of some pandemic restrictions next Monday, the hotel spa will be reopening and to get to it, customers will have to drive right past ‘Old Rhodey’.

Eloise Mercer who has worked as a gardener at the lodge for almost two years said: ‘It’s definitely a big attraction. This is the first year that I’ve actually seen it flower because last year we were on furlough. When you come in and see it in full bloom it does take your breath away.

‘Its lovely – its definitely something we’re all very proud of and everyone posts pictures of it, even those who work here who see it everyday..’

The 23-year-old, who was brought up in Horsham added: ‘This is one of the best years. I’ve seen pictures from last years and I don’t know what was going on with the weather but it was really patchy when it bloomed.

‘But this year is really great because all the flowers are budding at the same time which is just perfect and exactly how you want it.’

Explorer, Mr Du Cane Godman, a Cambridge scholar, planted the bush after his family bought the hotel and its grounds in 1883 and was fascinated by horticulture.

He travelled the world, compiling a natural history classification of more than 50,000 species, gathering a large collection of rare orchids, alpine plants and magnolias with his second wife Dame Alice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.