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The Water Gardens

Including the Slips, Black Pond, Ditch Beds, Iris Dell and Water Garden. The stream running through the Slips connects several water-based garden features.
The Iris Dell at Wakehurst

Did you know? 

  • The genus Iris is named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow, the moniker referring to the wide range of colours exhibited by these showy flowers.

Things to look out for

Walking south from the balustrade takes visitors though the Slips. This area was set out by Gerald Loder as a collection of mixed specimen trees and shrubs. In late winter the bank of Crocus tommasinianus east of the stream is a mass of purple blooms, followed by some spectacular tree magnolias. In early summer the grass is filled with wild flowers, including the Jersey orchid (Anacamptis laxiflora), introduced here from micropropagation at Kew as a test for reintroduction programmes.

At the south end of the Slips is the Black Pond, a water body shaded by mature oak and alder trees. Allegedly once home to black swans, it is today inhabited by moorhens and ducks, which sometimes nest amongst the dwarf bamboos growing on the pond’s western edge.

To the southsoutheast of the Black Pond is another water body and waterfall surrounded by Japanese irises, maples and rhododendrons. Specimens include the coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’), and low-growing rhododendrons R. Hino-mayo’ and R. ‘Hatsugiri’. A raised wooden walkway guides visitors around this feature, which is called the Iris Dell. It is at its best during late June and July when over 60 varieties of Japanese water iris (Iris ensata) are in bloom. Within the Iris Dell is an impressive swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum), a native of southeastern USA. The tree’s unusual lumpy roots are ‘natural snorkels’, called pneumatophores. These allow the tree to breathe through the thick mud of its native habitat.

Between the Black Pond and Iris Dell are the Ditch Beds. These are planted with a mix of herbaceous plants including gunneras and giant Himalayan lilies (Cardiocrinum giganteum). The latter flower in June then leave huge sculptural seed heads.

Beyond the Iris Dell is a collection of beds known as the Water Garden. Here, small streams and narrow wood-chip paths meander among moisture-tolerant plants, including hostas, arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) and zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis), shaded by rhododendrons, maples and oaks. Amongst the interesting plants here are the unforgettable Himalayan blue poppies and flamboyant Asian rowans with fiery red autumn colour. One path leads through a thicket of bamboo and over a narrow bridge. From the Water Garden the stream continues on into Westwood Valley.