A massive flowering shrub in the gardens of a Sussex hotel is attracting visitors from all over the world.
The enormous plant is thought to be Britain’s widest single-stemmed rhododendron.
It stands in the 93-acre grounds of the five-star South Lodge Hotel in Lower Beeding, near Horsham, where it was planted more than 120 years ago.
At the time, South Lodge was the home of Victorian explorer, plant-lover, entomologist and RSPB founder Frederick DuCane Godman.
Now the rhododendron arboreum Smithii has grown to a huge 115ft wide, 75ft deep and 40ft high.
“It’s spectacular,” said South Lodge head gardener Paul Collins, who confesses to not being a fan of ‘normal’ rhododendrons.
The plant was at its peak last week, but will still look glorious for around another week, said Paul, who maintains that the secret of its success is being left alone.
“It has become bigger by re-rooting itself. As the branches weigh down, they come in contact with the ground and after a couple of years, the branches form roots, spreading it still further.”
He said that tourists often visited the hotel, just to admire the rhododendron. “We had some people who came from the Netherlands specifically to look at it and take a picture.”
And hotel manager David Connell added: “Plenty of people come to see it when it is in bloom. Some of our bedrooms have wonderful views over it.”
The rhododendron is, in fact, one of a number - but by far the biggest - that Frederick DuCane Godman planted at South Lodge, along with orchids and alpine plants.
“We have a rhododendron in flower almost every month of the year,” said Paul, who heads a team of five gardeners maintaining the grounds and gardens.
As well as the rhododendrons, the gardens include other specimen trees and shrubs, bedding plants, pot plants, a walled vegetable garden which supplies the hotel’s restaurants, along with fields which are home to a breed of Sussex wagyu cattle - a favourite of South Lodge’s chefs.
If you want to try growing a rhododendron as successful as the arboreum Smithii, Paul Collins advises: “Make sure you plant it in acidic soil.
“Once it becomes big, the best thing you can do is to leave it alone.”