By Jeremy Andrews-Moore
Head Gardener & Nursery Manager
I started here at Reuthe’s at the beginning of April 2018 and immediately I was hooked. Some people may have been petrified by the idea of 11 acres of rare and hugely overgrown rhododendron with a good few acres completely untouched in decades, swamped in brambles twice the height of myself and completely inaccessible. All I saw however was a challenge full of possibility.
Within my first week I stumbled across the Victorian style purple pom-poms of R. nivium which amused me and was enraptured by not only the beautiful deep crimson colour of flowers on R. mallotum but also the fresh copper colour of the thick indumentum, on the underside of the leaf.
Since day one, my highest priority has been to unearth the hidden gems on the site with an overall aim of restoring these magnificent plants to their former glory. My biggest wish is to make the history of this site and our rare specimens, accessible to all and to educate people on the range and beauty of rhododendron. Most importantly I want these plants to be able to be appreciated by everybody, not just a select group of experts.
With these aims in mind I am often to be found rooting around amongst the brambles and undergrowth, carefully working my way through and identifying, labelling and photographing as much as possible.
In doing so I have come across a number of unusual species and hybrids including some of the Reuthe’s hybrids. These include R. ‘Soldier Sam, R. ‘Genes Favourite’ and a stunning form of R. ‘Igthams Yellow’ around 40 years old and previously grown and pruned as a large open standard, with a large wide canopy. This particular specimen was outstanding both in size, shape and flowers. These flowers lasted an extraordinarily long time as an abundance of flowers were to be seen for a solid 8-9 weeks.
I have also been lucky enough to happen upon Rhododendron ‘Oliver Cromwell’ ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Firefly’ all of which were varying shades of vibrant pinks. Another exciting moment for me was coming across a single Rhododendron ‘Igthams purple’ which, as far as I am aware, is a rare Reuthe’s hybrid rhododendron of which there are very few in the country.
Of course one can’t ignore the amazing fragrance coming from the likes of R. ‘Argosy’, R. ‘LoderiI King George’, R. ‘Loderi Titan’ and the numerous discolor and fortuneii hybrids. It gives me a thrill every time that I come across and name a species rhododendron of which I have so far found R. williamsianum, R. brachycarpum, R. auriculatum and R. aberconwayi to name just a few.
Two weeks ago, I climbed a tree and sat on a bow approximately 25 feet above the ground in order to be able to look down onto a few inaccessible areas just to glimpse at what was there. Although not unusual I was utterly delighted to find Rhododendron ‘Sonata’ (which I later learned to be a Reuthe’s hybrid). With its dainty, tubular shaped flowers, red margins with tinges of pink moving to an orange centre, Sonata shines brightly in the hours just before dusk, at the moment, certainly my favourite!
When I’m out in the grounds I often see visitors walking past beautiful plants so I like to make time to show them how they should look at more than just flowers and look at the leaves as well like the velvety soft new growth on R. falconeri, the huge leaves on R. sinogrande, the small rounded leaves of R. orbiculare and the very interestingly shaped leaf of R. amagianum. It gives me great joy to see visitors faces beam with delight at the new things they have seen and discovered here.
Reuthe’s is a long-term challenge but one that I am excited and proud to be a part of. This year is mostly pruning, unearthing gems and watching what the garden does in order to plan the ongoing restoration.
For me it is an adventure and going to work is akin to children going to the playground. I am excited at being at a pivotal moment in altering Reuthe’s history and evolving its future from a nursery to a garden with a nursery and hope that visitors will enjoy the journey with me into The Lost Gardens of Sevenoaks.