Dazzling floral delights in Dulwich: Michael Leapman takes a stroll among magnificent 100-year-old rhododendrons

Rhododendrons excite passions. Vita Sackville-West thought them vulgar - altogether too showy - yet some will journey to the most northerly and westerly parts of Britain to see them at their early summer peak.

Londoners have no need to go so far, because one of the finest displays is on our doorstep in Dulwich Park - and this is the weekend to catch them at their magnificent best.

Leaving the car on the park's main drive, walk ahead and go right at the first fork, down the wide path with a horse riding track, soon passing the Barbara Hepworth sculpture on the left between the path and the lake. Where the lake ends, follow the sign for Rosebery Gate, keeping the wooden fence on your left. When you are level with the cafeteria turn right, with the bowling green on the left and a view of the Crystal Palace TV mast on the right.

You will see the rhododendrons from a distance, becoming more spectacular as you approach - mainly whites, reds and lilac but a few jazzy oranges and yellows screaming for attention among them. Called the American Garden, this part of the park was often visited by Queen Mary, wife of George V.

The rhododendrons have been there since it opened in 1890 and are now, according to notices in the beds, at the start of a four-year refurbishment by Southwark Council. Leave the park by the Rosebery Gate and go left into the road. After that dazzling display, a quieter woodland stroll is appropriate, so, just before the traffic lights, turn right opposite the large Harvester Restaurant, through an ugly wire-mesh kissing gate into Cox's Walk, a surfaced path through oak trees.

Passing some allotments on your left and a golf course on the right, the lane soon reaches a footbridge over a railway cutting. Cross the bridge and go through the gate into Sydenham Hill Woods, a small nature reserve. Climb the log steps on your right and follow the bank of the cutting. For such a narrow strip of wood, it feels remarkably secluded and there is a bewildering number of paths, but if you follow the obvious ones you will be reassured by the sight of numbered waymarkers every few hundred yards. Bear right at the triangular junction at a clearing, where you may just catch the last of the bluebells.

Passing a small pond on your left, turn right by a tall oak to post No 4 and the remains of a small Gothic-style building. Go uphill past post No. 3 and, where the path turns sharp right, climb the log steps on your left to leave the reserve on Crescent Wood Road.

Turn right, keeping to the main road and passing No. 3, which bears a blue plaque announcing it as the former home of the television pioneer John Logie Baird.

Opposite Dulwich Wood House - a pub topped by a curious wooden lookout - turn right through a white metal kissing gate into a lane running downhill, with Dulwich Wood on the right.

Near the bottom, turn right through a gate into the wood and follow the main path straight ahead to a junction of six, where you bear slightly left downhill on the main gravel track. It emerges at the top of Grange Lane, opposite a prefabricated golf clubhouse.

Turn left into the lane, passing a second and much more impressive field of a allotments on the left. The lane meets College Road alongside the quaint 18th-century tollgate. Turn right, away from the tollgate, to pass the Victorian buildings of Dulwich College on the left - as flamboyant in their way as the rhododendrons.

Keeping straight on at the lights, you soon return to the park gate; if you have time it is worth visiting the Dulwich Picture Gallery just opposite.

The first purpose-built public art gallery in Britain, built in 1817 by Sir John Soane, it has a good small collection of Old Masters, but is best known for the repeated theft of Rembrandt's Jacob II de Gheyn.

(Photographs and map omitted)

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

    £23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

    Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

    £14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

    Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower