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Exbury Gardens’ centenary

Exbury Gardens, New Forest, Hampshire. Picture; Exbury Gardens
Exbury Gardens, New Forest, Hampshire. Picture; Exbury Gardens

Woodland New Forest garden marks 100 years with special events

Exbury Gardens, one of the UK’s finest woodland gardens famed for its rhododendrons, will be marking its centenary with events including the opening of a new ‘secret’ garden and a display at RHS Chelsea.

Created by Lionel de Rothschild in 1919, Exbury has grown to become a stunning garden paradise filled with rare plants, shrubs and trees.

Thanks to its collection of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, it is famed for its spring colour, as well as mature, rare trees.

The Hampshire garden has been expanded over recent years, with areas designed for summer and autumn blooms, as well as an extension of its 1½-mile Rhododendron Line steam railway.

This year’s events

  • A ‘secret’ centenary garden: Designed by Lionel’s great grand-daughter and RHS gold medal award-winning designer, Marie-Louise Agius. This was planted in 2017 and has been hidden from public view. The Centenary Garden will be unveiled when the gardens open for the season on March 23.
  • A stream of spring bulbs: 100,000 yellow and blue (the Rothschild family colours) bulbs have been planted in the lawns, including daffodils, crocus and bluebells.
  • RHS Chelsea: The famous rhododendrons will be showcased in the Great Pavilion in May in a collaboration with Millais Nurseries to conserve rare and threatened hybrid rhododendrons.
  • An official book: On the garden’s history and visitors will be able to see a special exhibition at Exbury.

‘Golden age of woodland gardening’

Head gardener Thomas Clarke said: “The 1920s were the golden age of woodland gardening and Exbury, under the careful eye of Lionel de Rothschild and his staff, was at the cutting edge of this movement.

“The location, climate, existing oak woodland and acid soil all allowed for the creation of one of the finest gardens of its kind in the UK.

“Combine this with the legacy of the great plant hunters, and the extensive plant breeding programme at Exbury, and we are fortunate enough to have inherited a truly wonderful garden packed full of horticultural treasures.”

Exbury Gardens, in the New Forest near Southampton, will open daily from March 23-November 3 from 10am-5.30pm. Adult tickets £12.50, children (3-15 years) £4, under 3s are free and a family ticket is £29, visit www.exbury.co.uk.

What to look out for at Exbury

The gardens are at their peak in April/May with rhododendrons and azaleas. The season starts in March with spring colour in the daffodil meadow, camellias, magnolias and heather.

Summer months see iris, wisteria, dogwoods, primulas, hydrangeas and the herbaceous borders in bloom.

In autumn, watch out dahlias, salvias, fuchsias, dogwoods, maples and the magnificent Nyssa.

Exbury Hall, New Forest, Hampshire. Picture; Exbury Gardens
Exbury Hall, New Forest, Hampshire. Picture; Exbury Gardens

Home Wood

A contemporary herbaceous garden leads to The Glade which stretches down from the neo-Palladian Exbury House that Lionel de Rothschild built around the smaller 18th-century house, marked by Cedars of Lebanon, planted in 1738, and a very tall giant redwood.

Many beautiful Exbury hybrids line the way to St Mary’s Spring, where ‘Mrs Lionel’s Seat’, overlooks the bog primulas, ferns, giant Gunnera and various forms of Pieris.

A stream from the spring then passes under the Japanese Bridge to Top Pond which is surrounded by a full display of Exbury and Solent deciduous azaleas.

A small waterfall splashes into a series of pools, beside which grow Japanese maples, candelabra primulas and hostas.

The Azalea Bowl has a fine display of evergreen azaleas, which extends around the Lower Pond. From here you can reach the Winter Garden with large-leaved macabeanum and sinogrande hybrids.

You also connect with the Camellia Walk; view point towards the Solent & Arromanches Plaque; the Daffodil Meadow and the Sundial Garden, a small formal herbaceous garden enclosed by high yew hedges.

Witcher’s Wood

Named after a family of charcoal-burners who used to live there, it contains many fine specimens of ornamental trees.

Lover’s Lane, leading towards the Beaulieu River, has banks of the Solent deciduous azaleas. The central part is one of the least formal areas, with huge mature rhododendrons.

Straying from the main path, small grassy paths provide the visitor with glimpses of some of the taller and most beautiful rhododendrons.

Yard Wood

It derives its name from the many yew trees growing there, which formed the bows of medieval archers. Folklore has it that one of these trees was mentioned in the Domesday Book.

Watch out for:

  • The Boardwalk, planted with tree ferns, bamboo, Gunnera and Wollemi pine
  • The Nyssa collection
  • Rock Garden, the largest man-made in Europe
  • American Garden with a comprehensive collection of rhododendrons from the USA
  • Bog Garden
  • Hydrangea Walk
  • Azalea Drive.

Steam Train

A 12¼” railway runs along a 1½ mile track. A 20-minute journey passes through the Summer Lane Garden. Now reaching maturity, it has huge swathes of colourful perennials, flowering grasses, a pool and maturing trees.

Passengers are encouraged to visit the Engine Shed. Graphics, videos and memorabilia line the walls recalling steam’s heyday and the construction of the railway.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.


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