The Isabella Plantation is a beautiful 40 acre woodland garden set within a Victorian plantation established in the 1830's.
The Isabella Plantation is a beautiful 40 acre woodland garden set within a Victorian plantation established in the 1830's. First opened to the public in 1953, it is best known for its evergreen azaleas, which line the ponds and streams and are at their peak of flower in late April and early May.
Located in the gardens are the National Plant Collection of Wilson 50 Kurume Azaleas (introduced to the west from Japan in the 1920's by the plant collector Ernest Wilson). Extensive collections of Rhododendron, Magnolia and Camellia, plus many other unusual trees, shrubs and herbaceous plantings ensure interest to hundreds of thousands of visitors all year round.
The garden is part of the Richmond Park Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is managed very much with nature in mind and the gardens are run on organic principles. Native plants commonly grow alongside exotics throughout the garden. Perimeter and shelterbelt areas are planted with native nectar and berry bearing trees and shrubs to provide food and shelter for birds, bats and insects. The gardens’ ponds and streams provide additional habitat for invertebrates and amphibians.
The garden was extensively refurbished between 2011 and 2015 thanks to significant financial support from the Heritage Lottery and Big Lottery funds to improve biodiversity and access.
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The Isabella Plantation is open all year round (see Richmond Park opening hours) with the exception of a small number of early closures during April/May.
There are two toilet blocks within the garden, one near Still Pond, and one by Peg's Pond gate. The toilet at Still Pond is open between April and November, the toilet at Peg's Pond gate is open year round. Both have wheelchair accessible cubicles. There is a baby change facility at the Peg's Pond gate toilet.
Recent refurbishment has improved many path surfaces and bridges and has included installing more benches. Four trails of varying lengths have been marked using log signs within Isabella Plantation and are colour coded.
Getting to Isabella Plantation
The nearest bus routes to the Isabella Plantation are the No 85 and K3 (Warren Road stop) buses which stop near Ladderstile Gate a pedestrian access gate off Kingston Hill on the south east side of the park. A way marked trail leads pedestrians from Ladderstile Gate to Isabella Plantation's Broomfield Hill Gate after a 15 minute walk.
There is also a seasonal bus service (RP1) that operates within Richmond Park that stops at the Isabella Plantation. The service will restart on 5 April 2023, running until 29 November 2023. Please check the webpage for the latest information.
Two car parks serve Isabella Plantation: Broomfield Hill car park situated on the park's south eastern perimeter and Peg's Pond car park, a dedicated car park for those with disabilities situated adjacent to the Plantation's north-western boundary. Following changes to the road network, Broomfield Hill car park can only be approached from the west via Kingston Gate.
Please note that Broomfield Hill car park is approximately 400m from the entrance to Isabella Plantation.
Disabled visitors car park
The disabled visitors car park is open 7 days a week, and can only be accessed via Ham Cross from Richmond Gate, Ham Gate or Kingston Gate. This car park cannot be accessed from Roehampton Gate at weekends, or from Sheen Gate at any time.
Cycling is permitted to the Peg's Pond Gate of Isabella Plantation within the disabled user's car park, accessed from the main park road at Ham Cross. This gate has several cycle stands.
There are five gates providing pedestrian access to Isabella Plantation namely Peg's Pond Gate from the disabled user's car park, Broomfield Hill Gate, Bramble Gate, Deer Sanctuary Gate and High Wood Gate.
Motorised wheelchair available
A motorised wheelchair, which makes the job of pushing considerably easier, may be loaned for use within Isabella Plantation on weekdays between 9.00 and 15.00. Please contact us to book the chair by noon on the day before it is required.
Seasonal Bus Service
Between 5 April - 29 November 2023, there is a free bus service running every Wednesday stopping at Richmond Park main car parks and Isabella Plantation Peg's Pond gate.
Biodiversity of the Isabella Plantation
The diversity of the Plantation's woodland cover, ponds, streams, glades, bog and heather gardens helps to create a wide range of habitats for wildlife. Native plants commonly grow alongside exotics throughout the garden; its fringes and shelterbelts are planted with nectar and berry bearing trees and shrubs which provide food and shelter for a wealth of wildlife.
Wildlife records for Isabella Plantation show an impressive range of flora and fauna including over 40 species of fungi, more than 50 species of beetle and over 130 species of butterfly and moth. It is also home to over 70 species of bird and six species of bat.
Fed from a natural supply of water pumped from Pen Ponds in the heart of Richmond Park, the ponds and streams are an important part of the diverse range of habitats available to wildlife and form part of the park's network of ponds, streams and open ditches, acting as important corridors for wildlife.
In 2013, a number of improvements were made to the Plantation's ponds and streams. Over 2,500 cubic metres of accumulated silt was removed from all three ponds along with large numbers of carp to significantly improve water quality. Pond edges were re-instated and additional native marginal and aquatic plants now provide varied habitats for a wider range of birds, bats and invertebrates. Peg's Pond was extended and planted with reedbeds to help reverse the loss of this nationally scarce habitat.
Reedbeds provide improved cover for resident water birds and may also attract reed bunting and reed warbler and offer opportunities for threatened species such as bittern to use this site.
Although man-made, the Plantation's Heather Garden with its mix of Erica and Calluna cultivars seeks to mimic natural heathland. Heathers are allowed to grow without excessive pruning and are planted alongside native shrubs commonly associated with heathland such as gorse and broom. With so many flowering plants, there is a regular source of nectar for bumblebees, which are occasionally preyed upon by the hornet, Britain's largest wasp. Heathers also attract large numbers of butterflies. The brimstone butterfly can be seen in March and red admiral, comma and small copper can all been seen flying here in summer.
Bog Garden and streams
Waterfalls and logs have been added to streams to alter and deflect flow and to encourage pooling and scouring. In some areas bank sections have been made shallower to provide entry points for small mammals and amphibians. Light levels have been increased by cutting back streamside azaleas and the invasive exotic skunk cabbage as well as the selective removal of the native marginal, royal fern. All of this has been aimed at maximising the potential of bogs and streams as habitats for wildlife.
The majority of Isabella's oak, beech and sweet chestnut woodland dates back to the Plantation's enclosure in 1831. There is also a healthy population of more than 25 veteran trees which pre-date this time. All of this native woodland cover provides the ideal conditions for a variety of wildlife.
The bird of prey, the sparrowhawk, can often be seen carrying out aerial attacks on smaller birds under the woodland canopy. Great spotted woodpeckers nest in the hollows of woodland trees and can be heard drumming high above. Treecreepers and nuthatch scale tree trunks feeding on the insects they find. Small mammals such as shrews come out at night and hunt insects and worms. The green oak roller caterpillar feeds on oak leaves and can be seen hanging from trees on silk threads in summer.
The shady humus rich soils of the woodland floor provide the ideal growing conditions for a wide range of native plants including bluebells, wood anemone and the green-flowered helleborine. Fungi are critical to the decay of plant, leaf and animal matter and the bracket like fruiting bodies on old birch or oak trunks betray the fungi feeding inside.
Dead or decaying wood, whether standing or fallen, is deliberately retained to provide habitat for birds, bats, wood rotting fungi and deadwood invertebrates.
History of the Isabella Plantation
In the 17th century, this area in the south west corner of Richmond Park was known as The Sleyt. This is the name usually used for boggy ground or an open space between woods or banks.
By 1771, it is shown on maps as Isabella Slade. Isabella may have been the wife or daughter of a member of staff. But it is more likely to be a corruption of the word isabel, which was used as far back as the 15th century to mean dingy or greyish yellow - the colour of the soil in this part of the park.
In 1831, Lord Sidmouth, the Deputy Park Ranger, fenced off 17ha (42 acres) of the wider Isabella Slade. He planted oak, beech and sweet chestnut trees as a crop for timber and gave the area the name it has today.
The present garden of clearings, ponds and streams was established from the 1950s onwards. It was largely the work of George Thomson, the Park Superintendent from 1951-1971. Along with his head gardener, Wally Miller, he removed Rhododendron ponticum from large areas and replaced it with other rhododendron species. They established evergreen Kurume Azaleas around the Still Pond and planted other exotic shrub and tree species. The garden has continued to evolve under successive Superintendents and Park Managers.
The main stream through the garden from Broomfield Hill Gate was dug in 1960 and the Plantation was enlarged to include Peg's Pond.
More recently, in 1989, a wild stream was dug in the northern section and this has now been colonized by ferns, water plantains and brook lime. The Bog Garden was renovated in 2000.
During the 2011-15 period, the garden was extensively renovated. The vast majority of invasive Rhododendron ponticum was removed, opening up the garden allowing more space for air and visitor circulation along with a considerable expansion of the plant collections. New toilets were built and improvements made to the path network. Peg’s Pond was enlarged with a new decking area and reed beds added to further enhance biodiversity.