Today, I discovered another beautiful place in Helsinki: The Rhododendron Park (Alppiruusupuisto) in Haaga. This park stretches over eight hectares and is a research garden of the University of Helsinki. What was once a bog was first planted with different kinds of rhododendron in 1975. In the shade of tall fir trees grow several thousand rhododendrons and azaleas in all colours. Some of them are local cultivars, which were first cultivated in the park and are now commercially available, like “Haaga” and “Pekka” (which was my personal favourite, with delicate light pink flowers). Some of the old specimen are several metres high! But it’s not just the colourful rhododendrons that can be admired here: There is also a broad variety of birds and many cute red squirrels, which can be best observed at the feeding stations in the park.
A network of wooden pathways leads through the park, making it accesible for all – so this is a wonderful place to visit also with prams or wheelchairs, and dogs are welcome too. The park is free to visit and easily accessible on public transport as it is only a short walk from Huopalahti train station, just a few minutes train ride from central Helsinki. The best time of the year to visit is throughout June, but this year, because of the very warm spring, flowers were already out at the end of May. The park is a real hidden gem, even many locals of Helsinki have never heard of it, so you’re guaranteed a peaceful walk in the forest! The area is also very close to Helsinki’s central park, so if you’re not tired after the stroll amongst rhododendrons, you can continue your walk through the forest there for miles and miles.
Interestingly, while Rhododendron is listed as an invasive plant in much of Western Europe and does extensive damage to ecosystems there, this does not seem to be the case in Finland. At least I could not find it listed on any invasive species lists, and the area where it is growing seems strictly contained to the actual park – we did walk a bit further around the area, and could not see any other “displaced” rhododendrons. In fact, there is even a very rare species of rhododendron that is native to Finland, the Lapland Rhododendron.