I thoroughly recommend a visit to the amazing Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park at this time of year – from now – early May to June. Go on a warm, dry day and you will see the most stunning and electric colours plus smell the warm honey aromas of the heathers. There is water, hence beautiful water plants and lots of varieties of ducks and other wildlife and the birdlife in the canopy of trees above is both deafening and magical. Resident species include redpoll, bullfinch, wood pecker, sparrow hawk and tawny owl. There are water fowl, such as pintail, tufted duck and pochard. Visiting birds include: wood warbler, redstart and whitethroat in spring; blackcap and spotted flycatcher in summer, green sandpiper in autumn and siskin and reed bunting in winter.
Although the area would have been in existence in the 17th century it was only in 1831 that Lord Sidmouth, the park deputy ranger, fenced off 42 acres of Richmond Park for the Isabella Plantation. He planted oak, beech and sweet chestnut trees as a crop for timber and gave the area the name it has today. (Isabella may have been the wife or daughter of a member of staff. But it is more likely to be a corruption of the word isabel, which was used as far back as the 15th century to mean dingy or greyish yellow – the colour of the soil in this part of the park).
You can take children there for picnics and you can take your dog, but he/she has to be kept on a lead.
For the plant enthusiast:
The garden has 15 known varieties of deciduous azalea and houses the national collection of 50 Kurume Azaelas. There are also 50 different species of rhododendron and 120 hybrids.
In spring, you can see camellias, magnolias, as well as daffodils and bluebells and this year the azaleas have started to flower early so you can see azaleas and bluebells together… a stunning site. . From late April, the azaleas and rhododendrons are in flower. In summer, there are displays of Japanese irises and day lilies. By autumn, guelder rose, rowan and spindle trees are loaded with berries and leaves on the acer trees are turning red. Even in winter, the gardens have scent and colour. There are early camellias and rhododendron, as well as mahonia, winter-flowering heathers and stinking hellebore.
The Isabella Plantation is run on organic principles.
The Bluebell wood at Isabella – photo taken last week-end (April 30th 2011)