Things to See and Do

Seasonal Garden Highlights

Designed by Sir Humphrey Repton, Kenwood's gardens were created with meandering paths to show off the estate and create a series of pleasurable surprises while strolling through the landscape. Many of the same views can still be enjoyed today. Take a journey through a year of seasonal garden highlights at Kenwood.

Magnolia tree at Kenwood
Magnolia with the south front of Kenwood House in the background during spring

Kenwood in Spring

The Kenwood landscape was designed to be seen from the circuit walk that provided a series of evocative views, particularly in spring with bud burst and subtle greening of the trees.

The flowering of the rhododendrons is dramatic as you walk from West Lodge, along the drive cut into the steep sandy banks of North Wood. Scots pine tower overhead, jostling for space among magnificent mature beech trees on the high sandy ridge.

Mid-way a clearing becomes obvious. This is the former quarry from where building materials were taken for the construction of Kenwood. In this oasis, an impressively tall sweet chestnut sits opposite the dense banks of rhododendrons that clothe the mound that runs along the path.

The gardens at Kenwood House
Rhododendrons in flower at Kenwood

A RIOT OF COLOUR

Here, great heads of multicoloured flowers belonging to the numerous hardy hybrids derived from crosses of R. catawbiense, R. ponticum and R. caucasicum make a spectacular route to the house.

As one gets a little closer to the house, the heavy delicious scent of Chimonanthuspraecox fills the air and intermingles with the scent of the evergreen Osmanthus x fortunei close by. As the house comes in to view there are several stately camellias bravely sporting their red or white flowers during frost-free periods.

In the shadow of the camellias stands a lone Viburnum carlesii, pink tinged, tubular flowers slowly turn white emitting the most seductive and heady scent which always catches people by surprise.

Entering Kenwood via East Lodge Rhododendron 'Cynthia' stands on guard on the west side of the gate in the shadow of the oak. Once inside the gate newly planted Rhododendron arboreum with its rich brown felt on the underside of the leaves contrasts splendidly with lily-of-the-valley, Convallaria majalis.

Red Campion, Silene dioica, fox gloves, Digitalis purpurea and bluebells meander through the understory below the trees as spring moves on towards summer.

CARPETS OF BLUEBELLS

Along the edge of the North Wood, opposite the front of Kenwood and around Beech Mount, native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) provide a carpet of blue through the woodland. Clumps of foxgloves also provide bright splashes of pink, purple and occasionally white amongst the trees.

To the west of the house, lies the former Flower Garden. The lawn with side borders of rhododendrons and azaleas contrasts with the large mature handkerchief tree, Davidia involucrata with its large white bracts below.

The Davidia has become so popular with visitors that people ring the garden weeks before it flowers to see how it's progressing in order that they don't miss its dazzling display.

Kenwood in Summer

From late May the many fine beech, Fagus sylvatica, and native pedunculate and sessile oaks trees Quercus robur and Q. petraea are now in full leaf. They start with an almost translucent green and slowly deepen in colour as Kenwood's green mantle develops for the summer.

In the West Meadow an unfolding red hue is taking place as the field supports carpets of flowering acid-loving sorrel plants, Rumex acetosella and R. acetosa.

View of park from Kenwood
View from south terrace looking towards Sham Bridge, with a glimpse of London beyond

MANY OF SPECIES OF BUTTERFLY

The abundance of wild flowers and natural habitats on the Kenwood estate attracts around 21 species of butterfly each year depending on the weather. Long sunny warm spells send the butterfly count higher.

The Brimstone butterfly caterpillars need shrubs such as the buckthorn, Rhamnus frangula to feed on. Common stinging nettles Urtica dioica are in abundance on the woodland edge. These are essential for painted lady, small tortoise shell and commas.

SPHAGNUM BOG

Perhaps the most botanically interesting area is the sphagnum bog, found within the Site of Special Scientific Interest. This habitat is rare for London and contains three bog mosses: Sphagnum fimbriatum, S. palustre and S. squarrosum, which all thrive in this protected zone.

Other species within the drier areas of the bog include foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea, the small herb bugle, Ajuga reptans and the attractive white showy flowers of the wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa.

Rather too vigorous on the edge by the fence is the common bracken Pteridium aquilinum, which can be seen creeping along under the shorter grass into the meadow and requiring regular attention to prevent it from becoming too invasive.

Hay meadows on the western side of the estate bloom white with Pignut Conopodium majus in May, turning pink with Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus in June and July.

The meadow grass grows unchecked throughout the summer and radiates with life as bees, butterflies and other invertebrates rush to complete their short lives.

MARSH MARIGOLDS AND FLAG IRISES

Along the water's edge, other plants such as the yellow showy marsh marigold, Caltha palustris thrive in these ideal growing conditions. Further afield but still enjoying the damp conditions, sparse groups of the elusive lady's smock, Cardamine pratensis mingle with other grassland species.

Along the banks of Wood Pond the large natural drifts of yellow flag iris, Iris pseudacorus and red campion, Silene dioica are reflected in the water and are a favourite with local artists.

SWEET PEAS

Sweet peas can often be seen growing at Mansion Cottage, formerly the Head Gardener's house in the days when it was a private estate.

Lathyrus odoratus 'Mrs Collier', an old fashioned cream coloured classic sweet pea was bred in 1907 and provides the perfect partner for one of the best crimson / purple roses 'Falstaff' with its powerful old rose fragrance.

At the end of the border next to the path leading into the Brewhouse café garden, a bold drift of Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' with huge white flowers reliably performs each year. The ebb and flow of the perennials in this border are chosen for their colour and reliability over the summer.

Star performers include Verbena bonariensis, Penstemon 'Blackbird', and cultivars of Thymus along the path where they get trampled and release their citrus-like fragrance.

Kenwood in Autumn

Autumn at Kenwood can be deceptively quiet at times, especially during wet days.

For hardier souls this time of year provides an ideal opportunity to enjoy the many woodland walks with only the sound of rustling leaves for accompaniment. Sunny autumn mornings have a magic of their own, much loved by local artists and photographers.

Distant autumn view through trees at Kenwood House
A distant view of the south front of Kenwood House through trees in autumn

DRAMATIC AUTUMN COLOURS

By late October, nature is putting on her marvellous display of changing colours in a show to rival that of spring. Thousands of trees provide a spectacular sight as the yellows, browns and reds blend across the skyline.

If you are lucky enough to visit during a sunny period with night time frost the kaleidoscope of colour can be breathtaking; even the different shades of brown seen together can be remarkable with the swamp cypress, Taxodium distichum set off against the oaks in the background beyond Wood Pond.

Look out for the sweet gum Liquidambar styraciflua located on the Pasture Ground near Stone Bridge which has the most amazing tinges of purples, yellows and oranges in their leaves.

Whilst on the Pasture Ground walking further east keeping Wood Pond on your right hand side, you will pass another autumn star the Parrotia persica.

IDEAL FOR WILDLIFE

About 30% of the 45 hectares (112 acres) of Kenwood have SSSI status (Site of Special Scientific Interest). The designation is largely for the standing deadwood within North Wood and Kenwood.

Throughout the estate there are some 6,000 trees many of which are carefully managed to maximise the number of species that they can support. Dead trees are left standing so that they can be colonised by fungi, insects, birds and bats. During the autumn fungi abound and reflect the sustained careful management over time.

Kenwood in Winter

When the last of the autumn leaves have fallen and the days become short it's a wonderful time to crunch through the woodland and experience the estate in all its austere beauty.

Of particular note are the many veteran trees dotted about the estate. They are mainly oak and beech, although the London Plane tree towering over the Service Wing is no youngster at an estimated 250-300 years old. Several of the sweet chestnuts are also amongst some of the oldest trees on the site.

In the Elms, near Elms Gate sits a majestic ancient sweet chestnut which is hollow at the base and is thought to be about 350 years old. If you are venturing into the Elms look out for the Saxon ditch that sits along the old cattle path once used by dairy cows 200 years ago as they plodded their way to the farm beyond the Dairy.

Kenwood House in snow
Kenwood House in snow

MAGNIFICENT BEECH TREES

Take the route between the East Drive of Kenwood up and over the woodland path through the area called Prospect Hill and you can not only see some magnificent old beech trees but also glimpse views of the house itself.

This area is often overlooked even by our regular visitors and provides a rare treat on a winter's day, especially when we get a classic bitterly cold day with piercing blue skies.

It's tempting to think that all plants hibernate over winter, but look a little more carefully and daffodils can be seen preparing themselves for their spring display as they pop their leaves just out of the grass or soil awaiting their turn.

CHRISTMAS BOX

The aptly named Christmas box, Sarcococca confusa, suddenly transforms itself from a fairly sombre evergreen into the most wonderfully fragrant and attractive ground cover plant around the festive period.

At the gate that leads onto the Stable Field many people are charmed by its fragrance before they can identify where the scent is coming from.

WINTER ACONITES

The yellow winter aconites, Eranthis hyemalis, emerge in late January or early February beneath the mulberry tree Morus nigra in the Kitchen Garden. This is just before their neighbouring Scilla sibirica which together make a colourful splash.

Perhaps the greatest accolade however should go to our native snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, which grow in generous drifts along the house drive.

This early and eagerly-awaited flowering bulb is a useful source of pollen. Around midday during periods of sunny weather honey bees can be seen flying away from here with heavily laden pollen sacks.

Coppiced clumps of hazel, Corylus avellana can be seen dotted around the estate with their catkins dusting the unwary with a generous deposit of pollen.

EARLY RHODODENDRONS

It's at this time of year that one of the earliest rhododendrons starts to flower and if you venture behind the magnolia near the ivy arch, you will find a fairly newly planted border with Rhododendron dauricum 'Mid-winter' bravely sporting its purple flowers.

Hamamelis virginiana, one of the witch hazels, with its fine, twisted yellow flowers is preparing its own late winter display which attracts attention during milder moist days because of its beguiling fragrance.

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New path in the North Wood at Kenwood House
The path through North Wood in winter
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