I’ve been working on the idea of the park as an enclosed space, and had an idle thought about the introduction of rhododendrons to the UK in the 19th century. How does such a ubiquitous plant, which I always associate with Victorian planting schemes, reflect an imperial and colonial context for the development of open space in Britain?
The long history and non-human ANT elements of the plant intrigue me – colonisers and plant-hunters took plants from the ecology of land they sought to cultivate for their own profit, transplanted them into domestic enclosures, changed the ecology of the land, including on estates that had been paid for by the profits of colonialism.
Then those estates fell into disrepair and abandonment with the decline of the minor gentry and colonial middle classes after the Second World War, at the same time as empire was collapsing. And then rhododendron (and other transplanted plants like balsam) took over, re-colonising the estates as invasive. And now there are programmes to remove rhododendron from woodland and former estates turned into green havens by volunteer groups.
- ‘Origin and evolution of invasive naturalized material of Rhododendron ponticum L. in the British Isles’, Richard Milne, Richard Abbott, Molecular Ecology, 9.5, 2000
- Rhododendron ponticum in Britain and Ireland: Social, Economic and Ecological Factors in its Successful Invasion, KATHARINA DEHNEN-SCHMUTZ and MARK WILLIAMSON, Environment and History, Vol. 12, No. 3 (August 2006), pp. 325-350, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20723582#metadata_info_tab_contents
- Balsam Bashing at Hopwood Hall, Middleton: https://youtu.be/NQqSZIL6vPQ