Why I love rhododendrons, sheep and tea

For all my indifference to gardening, I love rhododendrons. Why?

Because I spent a day wandering around the world-famous Rothschild Collection of rhododendrons and azaleas at Exbury Gardens on my honeymoon in a wet June in 1990.

Because the first time that I visited Cumbria in the spring, I realised that there were literally masses of wild rhododendrons, making my favourite place even more special.

Probably because they flourish in the wild, given the correct conditions, and therefore are part of a natural landscape requiring NO MAINTENANCE.

Daughter of Mine groans whenever I say, “Ooh, look at that rhododendron!” because, apparently, I say it all the time. I don’t. Even I know they are not in flower all year round.

Anyway, since visiting Nymans Gardens in Sussex over the Easter weekend and seeing their glorious displays of this beautiful family of plants, I have added ‘plant rhododendrons’ to my ever-growing list of projects.

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But I’ve learnt during my research into the species that it’s not all good news for the rhododendron:

‘Its foliage prevents sunlight reaching forest floors and stops other plants, including tree saplings, from growing.’ – A big problem in Scotland apparently, but presumably in the Cumbrian landscape too?

The leaves, flowers and nectar of some species are poisonous. The domination of the plant in large areas effectively destroys the whole food chain; insects don’t eat it, bird numbers decline because there aren’t any insects to eat, and in turn larger predators such as sparrowhawks are also forced out of their natural habitats by the loss of prey to the area.

Allegedly, humans can get ‘Mad Honey Disease‘ by eating honey made from rhododendron flowers. Not that I plan on becoming a bee keeper, although the disease is short-lived and rarely fatal.

And according to Shepherd’s Blog, sheep have been known to die after eating the plants when other feed is scarce. Thankfully, a common antidote is at hand – a strong cup of tea (or more accurately a stomach tube, drenching gun or dosing bottle of tea). The premise is the tannins in the tea neutralise the poisons.

I just knew a good cuppa cures all.


A late contender for Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring



I did get out in the garden after all today. Did a bit of weeding round the front, cleared out the dead annuals from the hanging baskets and cleared up what felt like a million oak leaves.  I now know how Cinderella must have felt, picking out the lentils from the ashes.

I didn’t really enjoy the actual gardening. It always makes me feel a bit queasy, like how I used to feel after cross-country running at school. Must be all the bending over on a full stomach of tea.

But I did enjoy being out in the sunshine, so after another cuppa I caught up with the after-school frolics that were unfolding around me. The photo shows the calm before the storm. Children of Mine had the hose on full blast to clean the slide; it wasn’t long before this culminated in the first water fight of the year.

The peace of another Spring day was shattered…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring

Ah, Spring! The beauty of daffodils, crocuses and the gentle warmth of the sun finally persuades me to venture into the garden.

Yet my Spring mostly looks like this.  There always comes the moment when I actually ‘see’ the things in the garden that any self-respecting home owner would have dealt with at the end of the season.


Every year, I am mystified as to how many plants have died without me actually noticing – how selfish of them! Of course, even with my limited gardening knowledge I know that hanging baskets consist merely of annuals and therefore death is inevitable. I even had a task on my never-ending to-do-list – ‘plant winter pots / hanging baskets’ – yet clearly this was never done, why?

Because I am not even a fair-weather gardener. Instead, I describe myself as a ‘no-weather gardener’. Maybe that’s why I like mountain scenery so much – all that untamed natural beauty, with no trellis, pot, basket, compost or trowel in sight.

And yet I love the formality of colourful displays such as this one, taken last Sunday in Priory Park in Chichester.


So I have now well and truly shamed myself into going into the garden today. No excuses. I am not at work, the sun is shining and the housework can wait until another time (no change there then!).