The Royal Parks team in Richmond Park produces a monthly diary (May issue below) which is displayed on the Park's public notice boards. If you are a member of the Friends and would like to receive these monthly diaries by email, please send your name and email address to Chris Mason at

The Park in May

Oak Processionary Moth May is the time of year when the caterpillars of this invasive moth are on the move. The hairs of the caterpillars carry a toxin which can be a threat to human health, causing skin rashes, eye irritation and respiratory problems. In high numbers the caterpillars can also cause defoliation of oak trees.

In late April/ early May pesticide spraying will take place on oaks in busy areas and those where they have been previously heavily infested. This will be followed by careful surveying of the whole Park in June and July to locate nests which are then removed by specialist operatives using protective clothing and equipment.

If you come across the caterpillars or their webbed nests please do not touch them and keep children and pets away. Report any sightings to the Park office on 0300 061 2200.

Mimicry in nature is the art of pretending to be something else in order to better aid the survival of a species. Camouflage is perhaps the most common type of mimicry; simply looking like the habitat that the animal or plant lives in and therefore being difficult for predators to see. The herds of Red and Fallow deer are actually camouflaged when lying in the dried bracken or amongst bleached fallen deadwood in the Park.

However animals and plants also mimic in other ways. The harmless wasp beetle is striped black and yellow to fool any potential predators that it can sting in defence – just like a wasp. The Stinkhorn fungus mimics the smell of decaying animal flesh. Flies follow the smell to the fungi anticipating an opportunity to feed and lay eggs but instead land on the Stinkhorn and disperse the pollen instead. Peacock Butterflies have eye-like markings on their wings to look like larger birds etc. The cuckoo (who lays its eggs in the nests of other birds to raise them) alters their eggs' colouration and marking to mimic the appearance of the host bird’s eggs.

May blossoms Hawthorn is a small, scrubby native tree that is abundant in Richmond Park. Unlike Blackthorn it comes into leaf before the blossoms burst and when in full flower the white petals almost cover the green leaves underneath.

With global warming it often flowers in late April, but it is such a powerful sight in May that the Hawthorn is also known simply as ‘May’. There are many cultural references and sayings relating to May blossoms such as “April showers bring forth May flowers”. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 is the origin of the book and TV series “The Darling Buds of May” – an expression used for that which is fresh and new:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.

Another proverb 'Ne'er cast a clout till May be out' means don’t stop wearing your winter vest until the Hawthorn blossoms appear – which ties in well with gardening advice to not plant frost-tender plants until mid May.

The Isabella Plantation in May

Rhododendrons On the lawn above Thomson’s Pond are two beds planted with the Japanese species, Rhododendron yakushimanum, amongst a group of its hybrids named after the Seven Dwarfs: Sneezy, Grumpy etc. These plants are compact and very floriferous.

Also, seek out the tall ‘Loderi’ hybrid ‘King George’, with its large soft pink flowers which are sweetly fragrant. It grows in a number of places in the Garden but most notably set back above the Still Pond. Follow the Small Stream down from the Still Pond to discover Rhododendron williamsiananum, a compact species with attractive bronze young shoots, distinctive heart shaped leaves and bell-shaped, shell-pink flowers.

Look out for Rhododendron ‘Bibiani’ growing in a number of areas in the garden. This shrub produces compact trusses of rich crimson funnel shaped flowers with maroon spots.

Evergreen azaleas

Easy to identify are:
‘Orange Beauty’, the most orange of all
‘Rosebud’, opening buds resemble tiny roses
‘Palestrina’, white with a faint ray of green
‘Vuyk’s Scarlet’, large flowers of a deep silky red
‘Hinode Giri’, bright crimson, around the Still Pond

Deciduous azaleas

These flower slightly later and often have a rich spicy smell, particularly Azalea pontica, (Rhododendron luteum), which is yellow and to be found by the gate to Broomfield Hill.

The bog garden

Look out for Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’, growing in the bed by the middle pond, it bears orange-red flowers and has a reddish tinge to the emerging young shoots. Alongside the margins of pools and streams grows the “Japanese Primrose”, Primula japonica ‘Millers Crimson’ with its whorls of crimson flowers which are borne in profusion on tall stems, from May to July.

Also present are the young fronds of the “Shuttlecock Fern”, Matteuccia struthiopteris which show an attractive fresh green. Growing either side of the main pool is the “Ornamental Rhubarb”, Rheum Palmatum, a robust herbaceous perennial with broad, architectural foliage and pink flowers on large erect panicles.

The native tree “Whitebeam”, Sorbus aria, grows near the Broomfield Hill gate and looks particularly attractive at this time of the year with its silvery-white young leaves. Skimmia japonica can also be found growing near this gate along the path that leads onto Camellia Walk and the Still Pond.

The “Foxglove Tree”, Paulownia tomentosa, stands in the glade between the Still Pond and Old Nursery Glade. This large leaved tree bares sprays of fragrant foxglove-like pinkish-lilac flowers in spring.

The “Pocket Handkerchief Tree”, Davidia involucrata, set back from the Camellia Walk, has intriguing white hanging bracts. Another specimen may be found in a secluded lawn to the southeast of Thomson’s Pond.

The “Snowdrop Tree”, Halesia carolina, with dangling white bell flowers, stands by the path above Thomson’s Pond.

Cornus nuttallii, whose white bracts appear like flowers, can be found set back in the newly planted Magnolia Glade near the Ham Gate entrance. Also look out for the pale lemon yellow fragrant flowers of Magnolia wilsonii ‘Yellow Fever’ and the wonderful deep purple flowers of Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra’.

Bluebells carpet the wilder fringes of the Garden. PLEASE KEEP TO THE PATHS TO AVOID TRAMPLING THEM.

Wheelchair available

A motorised wheelchair, which makes the job of pushing considerably easier, may be loaned for use within the Garden on weekdays between 9am and 3pm. Please ring 0300 061 2200 to book the chair by noon on the day before it is required.

Isabella Plantation Garden Walks 2014

You are invited to join the gardeners for guided walks throughout the year.
Walks will take place on:

May Friday 30th, Sunday 11th
June Friday 6th and 27th, Sunday 15th

Walks last about one-and-a-half hours and are free of charge. Meet inside the Garden by the gate from Broomfield Hill car park at 11am.