Chiswick House Camellia Show

A lovely – and free – thing to do in Chiswick in early spring

Around the end of February / beginning of March each year the Camellia Show in the Conservatory at Chiswick House brings a burst of colour to the 65 acre park. There are 33 varieties housed in the 300 ft Grade I listed glass house, including the Middlemist’s Red, one of the rarest Camellias in the world,  and many of the plants have been growing in the Conservatory for over 200 years. Entry to this magnificent display of red, white and pink Camellia blooms is free.

Head gardener at Chiswick House, Geraldine King, has been responsible for the park winning a clutch of awards each year in the London In Bloom competition, including Best Heritage Park and being voted the ‘People’s Choice’ by members of the public. Watch the video of Geraldine telling the fascinating history of the collection and explaining why looking after it is such an awesome responsibility. She spoke to Bridget Osborne at the start of the 2015 Camellia show.

Photograph by Margaret Easter

Oldest collection under glass in the Western world

The collection is thought to be the oldest under glass in the Western world and includes several rare and historically important examples, many believed to be descended from the original planting in 1828. Imported from Japan, they were introduced by the Duke of Devonshire so he could offer the rare and expensive flowers to the ladies who came to his extravagant parties.

The future of these ‘heritage’ camellias has been secured by an on-site propagation programme run by the gardeners in the recently restored Melon House and visitors to the show have the opportunity to buy a choice of heritage varieties from Chiswick’s original collection.

Photographs above by Anna Kunst and Marianne Mahaffey

The Conservatory itself has an interesting history. Designed by the architect Samuel Ware (who later designed the Burlington Arcade, Piccadilly) and completed in 1813, it was one of the earliest large glass houses to be built; a forerunner of Decimus Burton’s glass house at Kew and Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace. It gained a new notoriety when 50 years ago the Beatles recorded the first music video there, for their single Paperback Writer.

The Conservatory is in the middle of the gardens, near both Chiswick House and the cafe. Visitors are invited to make a day of it, enjoy the whole Grade 1 listed estate, stop off for refreshments at Chiswick House Café and visit the 18th century Villa at weekends.

Photographs above by Jon Perry, Margaret Easter and Fiona Hanson

The Gardens of Chiswick House were famed for their beauty and their variety of exotic plants when Chiswick House belonged to the Dukes of Devonshire, but they were not the only gardens of note in Chiswick.

In the 19th century the Horticultural Society (before it became the Royal Horticultural Society) chose Chiswick to be their nursery, to which they brought exotic plants from all over the Empire and worked out how they could thrive in our climate.

In Fiona Davison’s book The Hidden Horticulturalists she explains how working class men trained as gardeners in the Horticultural Society’s garden and took their expertise with exotic plants to the great gardens of the landed gentry and the suburban villas of the middle class all over the country. Among them was Joseph Paxton, who worked for the Duke of Devonshire and went on to design Crystal Palace.

Read more about the Hidden Horticulturalists here.