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Lea Rhododendron Gardens


Lea Rhododendron Gardens, a specialist garden laid out in the 1920s, include a unique collection of highly-acclaimed rhododendrons, azaleas kalmias and other plants collected from across the world. A wide variety of alpines with acers, dwarf conifers, heathers and spring bulbs can be found in the rock garden. Lea Rhododendron Gardens are situated on the remains of a disused medieval millstone quarry, located on a wooded hillside.

Lea Gardens lie on a south-west-facing slope, on the northern edge of the Amber valley and looking across to one of the 1,000-foot (305m) peaks of the Pennine chain.

Ornamental trees have been planted in the quiet woodland area of the main gardens.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details


Lea Rhododendron Gardens are 3 miles south of Matlock and 45 minutes from Derby, Nottingham Buxton or Sheffield. The site is off the A6 at Cromford.


Peter Tye, Nancy Tye and Joyce Colyer


Lea Rhododendron Gardens were laid-out by John Marsden-Smedley (1867-1959), the owner of John Smedley Ltd, a manufacturer of quality woollen garments. A great lover of plants, Marsden-Smedley was inspired to start his own rhododendron garden after trips to Bodnant and Exbury.

Having rebuilt the farm of Lea Green, Marsden-Smedley turned his attention to planting rhododendrons in various parts of his land. Traces of his early trials can still be seen in parts of the old woodland. Eventually these trials yielded an ideal site: the present site of Lea Gardens. Not only did the site provide shelter, but mature trees offered essential wind protection and shade, vital to the successful growth of the plants. Since the site was located on an old quarry, craftsmen were able to use quarry stone to build the path and verandas in the local dry-stone walling style.

The hand-written records of Marsden-Smedley's rhododendron and azalea collection provide details of who supplied the plants and the varieties ordered; entries show plants arriving from many of the leading growers and breeders of the 1930s, such as Knaphill, Exbury and Bodnant.

When Marsden-Smedley died in 1959, he left behind a collection of some 350 varieties of species and hybrid rhododendrons and azaleas. Following his death, the estate was divided and sold and the gardens were acquired by Peter and Nancy Tye. A year later, the couple were joined by Joyce Colyer, the estate manager for John Marsden-Smedley.

Under this new ownership, alpine screes were created and new plants, rock screes, ornamental shrubs and trees introduced.

In 1960, Lea Rhododendron Gardens were opened to the public.


Early 20th Century (1901-1932)

Features & Designations

Plant Environment

  • Plant Type
  • Rhododendron Garden


  • Rockery
  • Quarry
Key Information





Plant Environment

Plant Type

Principal Building



Early 20th Century (1901-1932)





Open to the public


Civil Parish

Matlock Town