The Woodland Garden
Howick is perhaps best known for Silverwood, the woodland garden started by Lord Grey in 1930. There is an extensive collection of mainly species rhododendrons which is still being added to, with a few of the better hybrids like ‘Loder’s White’, ‘Penjerrick’, ‘Princess Alice’, ‘King George’, and a number of red ones derived from Rh. griersonianum. The large leaf species include mature specimens of Rh. falconeri, rex, calophytum, montroseanum, fictolacteum and macabeanum with young plants of grande, sino-grande, and kesangiae. Other well known ones are decorum, augustinii, sutchuenense, campylocarpum, fargesii, williamsianum, rubiginosum, insigne, and reticulatum, all from good forms. Tender species not often seen on the east coast include fragrantissimum, griersonianum, crassum and facetum.
Lord Grey was well connected in the gardening world, his uncle being George Holford of Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire (now the largest arboretum in the UK, owned and managed by the Forestry Authority), while Giles Loder of Wakehurst Place in Sussex (now an offshoot of Kew Gardens) was a great friend; a lot of rhododendrons were given to him by them from new collections being introduced from China and the Himalayas, but sadly he kept only the most rudimentary of notebooks, so we now have no accurate information on the origins of most of the old rhododendrons in Silverwood. Nowadays they flower from late March, which makes them vulnerable to spring frosts, until late May, continuing on into June. We are often lucky in avoiding frost, being close to the sea, but not always. Some of the rhododendrons are well worth seeing for their spectacular new leaf growth in June, which can be as interesting as their flowers, the best being Rh. kesangiae.
Apart from the well known and sweet smelling yellow azalea from the Caucasus, Rhododendron luteum and its hybrids, most of the other azaleas from America and Japan find our summers a little cool and do not always flourish; schlippenbachii and albrechtii from Japan are two of the best. Other woodland genera which were tried by Lord Grey but which didn’t really thrive were Enkianthus, Menziesia, and Stewartia; all like a good summer by our standards, but Pieris, Gaultheria, Vaccinium and Leucothoe on the other hand grow well. The Pieris in particular in May/June are lovely with their long racemes of white flowers, followed by young leaves coloured red to warn the insects not to eat them while they are poisonous, before fading into a pale green.
He found many other plants which flourish here and they include Eucryphia from Chile such as glutinosa, and cordifolia (sadly, we lost a large tree of the latter in a storm in 1997, squashed with a mature Chilean Firebush, Embrothrium coccineum, by a falling Spanish Chestnut), as well as ‘Nymansay’ (a hybrid of the two), and lucida and milliganii from Australia. They all have lovely white flowers in high summer. There is a fine specimen of Clethra delavayi from China with racemes of white flowers in July, and two good Drimys winteri from Patagonia.