Hidden in the middle of Richmond Park is the Isabella Plantation, a 40 acre woodland garden.
Best known for its collection of evergreen Azaleas, it is also full of Rhododendrons, Camellias, Wych Hazels and Magnolias, making spring the best time to visit.
"Part of the parklands conservation designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the site is managed very much with nature in mind and the gardens are run on organic principles. Native plants commonly grow alongside exotics throughout the Plantation. Perimeter and shelterbelt areas are planted with native nectar and berry bearing trees and shrubs to provide food and shelter for birds, bats and insects. The Plantation's ponds and stream provide additional habitat for invertebrates and amphibians."
There is also quite a collection of exotic trees including the Hankerchief Tree, Davidia involucrata, and a few Dawn Redwoods, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, with their yew-like foliage.
A couple of streams run through the Plantation, creating some large ponds, including Thomson's Pond, surrounded by Azaleas.
The sides of the streams are planted with a mix of native and exotic plants. I was there too early for the Asiatic primulas, but the ferms were just starting to unfurl their shepherd's crooks.
For me though the highlight is the native trees coming into leaf, particularly oak and beech trees.
Of course you don't have be interested in all the plants and trees, Isabella Plantation is a lovely place for a walk whatever the time of year, and it's a bike-free zone....
The nearest carpark is on Broomwood Hill and there is a gravelled track to the top entrance. When I was there a Park Ranger was offering lifts back up the hill in his buggy, I don't know if this is a regular thing but young and old were taking advantage of it. For the less mobile there is a carpark at the bottom for blue badge holders.
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