It was former Prime Minister Lord Sidmouth who established the plantation in the south-west corner of Richmond Park in 1831 when he was deputy ranger, enclosing the 42 acre site with fences to keep the deer out and planting oak, beech, and chestnut trees with a view to growing them for timber.
It was also he who, drawing on an older name for the area – Isabella Slade (Isabell is thought to have meant ‘dingy yellow’ in Old English and may refer to the colour of the topsoil in the plantation area while Slade meant a shallow valley) – gave it the name the Isabella Plantation.
The garden as we largely know it now was established on the site in the years immediately after World War II with clearings, ponds and waterways (these are today fed from Pen Ponds), thanks in large part to George Thomson, superintendent of the park from 1951-71, and his head gardener, Wally Miller.
Isabella Plantation was opened to the public in 1953 although improvements – including the Bog Garden which was reconstructed in 2000 – continue to be carried out.
Highlights among the flora include the National Collection of ‘Wilson 50’ Kurume azaleas (introduced by plant collector Ernest Wilson from Japan to the West in the 1920s) and large collections of rhododendrons and camellias. The garden also attracts a wide range of birds as well as other wildlife and offers the visitor something to see all year round.
There’s a number of trails you can download free-of-charge from the Royal Parks website which will help you to fully engage with the plantation.
WHERE: Isabella Plantation, Richmond Park (pedestrian access to the plantation from Peg’s Pond Gate, Broomfield Hill Gate, Bramble Gate, Deer Sanctuary Gate and High Wood Gate); WHEN: Daily (check Richmond Park opening times); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park/richmond-park-attractions/isabella-plantation.
PICTURES: © Greywolf/The Royal Parks