UK's largest rhododendron blooms early due to rain

A huge rhododendron bush has bloomed a month earlier than expected.

The plant at the South Lodge Hotel, near Lower Beeding, West Sussex, usually blooms in April but due to recent wet weather has flowered now.

Head gardener Paul Collins said: "It is 25m (82 ft) to 30m high and around 80m long. I have to use a 50m tape twice to measure it in full.

The enormous shrub - also known as "Big Rhodey" - was planted more than 120 years ago and is believed to be the biggest in the UK.

Mr Collins said: "I've worked here for 12 years and it keeps getting earlier and earlier every year, but this is the earliest I have ever known it to bloom. It is thriving off the rain."

He said the plant was "covered in red and pink blooms" and is so big "there is nothing I can do to it".

He told BBC Radio Sussex: "The reason that I believe it has bloomed this early is due to global warming."

Its size is a result of it re-rooting itself. As the branches weigh down, they come in contact with the ground and eventually form roots, spreading it further.

Mr Collins said the property was bought in 1883, but gardening at the site was not started until 1891.

"It is a replica of [the nearby] Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens - but I'd say it is much prettier," he said.

The rhododendron is expected to be in peak condition over the next few weeks.

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