Rhododendron Dell was originally known as the Hollow Walk and
carved out of the Thames flood plain by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown
in 1773. It was in the shape of a large oval horseshoe, set within
an area of woodland and planted with laurels, earning it its other
name of Laurel Walk.
It is now thought not be be entirely of Brown's original thinking,
since early maps show that in around 1734, Charles Bridgeman had
created a sunken feature in Richmond Gardens. Part of it lies within
the bounds of Hollow Walk, so it is highly likely that, rather than
filling in the whole of the Bridgeman's feature, Brown retained
part of it and then extended it to make his famous sunken walk.
The 1794 plan of the Gardens shows Hollow Walk following its original
line. By the time of Aiton's "View" of 1837, the Hollow
Walk had changed its shape, now connecting with the path that ran
behind the Walk to the west. The northern end was also foreshortened
when the Stafford Walk cut across it. This early 19th century reorganisation
of Hollow Walk created the form that the Rhododendron Dell now follows.
The rhododendrons that gave the Walk its name were collected and
sent back from Sikkim by Joseph Hooker and planted in the Hollow
Walk in the early 1850s. Specimens from the same batch were planted
in the grounds of Queen Charlotte's Cottage. At the time, a highly-respected
gardener and writer named Donald Beaton called the Hollow Walk "the
Sikkim of Kew" and rated the display of rhododendrons the finest
in the country.
At the end of the 19th century, Sir William Thiselton-Dyer oversaw
the thinning and replanting of the Dell, and in 1911 these plantings
were replaced by E. H. Wilson's superb Chinese specimens.
Today, Rhododendron Dell is one of Kew's most-visited famed single
plantings. Rhododendrons are one of the largest and showiest groups
of flowering shrubs, with great variation in size, habit and form.
There are over 700 specimens planted in the Dell, with some unique
hybrids found only here.
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