Old Rhododendron Garden

Wander into a world of sweet-smelling rhododendrons, flanked by a large grassy glade

Old Rhododendron Garden

At the entrance to this sweet-smelling Garden room, you’ll find a huge ‘Goddess Magnolia’ (Magnolia sprengeri var. diva) soaring above you and flanked by deep plantings of rhododendrons. These hybrids of Himalayan species are some of the first Chinese rhododendrons to be introduced to Britain by 19th century plant hunters Robert Fortune and Joseph Dalton Hooker.

In 1906 this was where Col. Stephenson Robert Clarke began his rhododendron collection in earnest, turning a pretty garden into a nationally important one. Over the years we have added trees, shrubs and lower-level planting, with many of the rhododendrons now underplanted with early-flowering woodland plants that flourish in dappled shade, and with Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, known for its white-iced leaves and pale-blue flowers.

Magnolia sprengeri var. 'diva' in the Old Rhododendron Garden at Borde Hill
Rhododendrons at Borde Hill

Dig a little deeper

In 1939, plant hunter Ernest Wilson brought a beautiful Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta plant all the way from China to Chenault’s Nursery in France. The magnolias you see blooming in our Garden today were propagated from that original tree and produce large goblet-shaped pink flowers.

On the left of the Garden you will see a large grassy glade, cut in the early 1970s and named after Jack Vass, our Head Gardener between 1968–79, who propagated many of the rhododendron hybrids here.

You’ll also find the Hoheria angustifolia ‘Borde Hill‘ here. This slender tree with serrated leaves came from New Zealand and is covered with masses of small white flowers during the summer months.

Rhododendrons are not the only feature of this densely planted and wood-like area and you will also discover many different magnolias, from M. sieboldii, M.s. subsp. sinensis ‘Grandiflora’ and M. ‘Susan’ to Magnolia dawsoniana. These grow alongside Asian planting which includes acer and oak trees and strands of bamboo.

In May the air is scented by wild garlic (Allium ursinum), interplanted with forget-me-nots and followed later in the month by the creamy-pink flowers of Paeonia ‘Picotee’ and Geranium ‘Brookside’.

Plants of Interest

  • Magnolia sprengeri var. diva
  • Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta
  • Davidia involucrate
  • Rh.arboreumR
  • Rh. griffithianum
  • Rh.thomsonii
  • Rh. barbatum
  • Rh. fortunei
Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta in the Old Rhododendron Garden at Borde Hill

Did you


The Round Dell was a former metal quarry - the excavated space now provides ideal conditions for sub-tropical plants including palm trees and gunnera. Re-designed in 2017, the concrete path represents a ship sailing through a lush exotic jungle, featuring many newly collected plants by Crug Farm.
The Round Dell at Borde Hill
A child on the zip wire in the Advenure Playground at Borde Hill.
Children in the Italian Garden. Image: Emli Bendixen

For Families

The ideal place for children to explore, learn and find joy in nature

Plan a fun-filled day for you and your family in the great outdoors, come rain or shine. Enjoy the perfect balance of fresh air and big open spaces to roam in, then refuel at the Gardeners’ Retreat Cafe, enjoy a picnic in the Garden or by the lakes or treat yourself to a delicious ice cream from the Gift Shop.


Connect to the beauty of nature while supporting our Garden for future generations by becoming a Member.

Members enjoy unlimited access to the Garden, Woodland and Playground throughout the open season, as well as free entry to highlights from our varied events programme. Visit time and again and enjoy free family trails during the school holidays, exclusive open days and monthly Garden newsletters.

Discover the Possibilities

A family next to the water feature in the Rose Garden at Borde Hill during summer.

Become a Member

Membership is your ticket to enjoy unlimited access to the Garden, Parkland and Woodland throughout the open season. Our members also receive free entry to a number of exciting events, from live music in the Garden to Specialist Plant Fairs and much more. Family Membership provides unlimited access to the Adventure Playground and free school holiday trails.

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Italian Garden at Borde Hill. Image: Molly Hollman

Our Garden & Grounds

Set within 383 acres of heritage listed Parkland, our formal Garden captivates and delights visitors with a series of intimate 'Garden rooms'. Beyond the formal Garden you can explore Woodland walks, the South Park and our lakes with outstanding views across the Sussex High Weald.

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A misty atmospheric view of trees in North Park at Borde Hill with cows in the distance.

Support Us

As a small, independent Garden Charity, we rely on your kind generosity to help fund our projects and to continue to grow sustainably, protecting our natural heritage for generations to come. 'Reinventing Borde Hill' is our most ambitious project to date and your support will help us to achieve exciting plans to benefit our local community.

It would make a huge difference if you would consider supporting us by making a donation – thank you.

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