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Chelsea Flower Show 2019

Rare rhododendron revival

Exbury Gardens teams up with Millais Nurseries at RHS Chelsea Flower Show to celebrate centenary

Rare rhododendrons bred by the founder of the world-famous Exbury Gardens, Lionel de Rothschild, will be on show at RHS Chelsea for the first time in an exhibit by experts Millais Nurseries (Great Pavilion, stand number GPC/171). The unique display is to mark the centenary of Exbury Gardens and will highlight the colourful wonder of these beautiful plants as well as a joint conservation project to safeguard rare Exbury hybrids.


Throughout the last 100 years, Exbury Gardens has been synonymous with rhododendrons. The banker Lionel de Rothschild created the gardens in 1919, spending 20 years developing a stunning 200-acre woodland paradise. He was a keen collector of plants, funder of many plant-hunting expeditions, and a highly successful hybridiser of many different rhododendrons. Over 1,000 hybrids have been raised at Exbury by three generations of the Rothschild family, and to safeguard many of the original plants, Exbury’s horticultural team has been working with Millais Nurseries to conserve some of the rarer and more highly threatened hybrid rhododendrons in its collection.

Millais Nurseries in Surrey grows one of the widest ranges of rhododendrons and azaleas in the world with an unparalleled experience of the genus, and is run by David Millais, great nephew of the botanist and rhododendron expert JG Millais who, himself, collaborated with Lionel de Rothschild in the years before the Second World War.

Many of the famous heritage Exbury rhododendrons will be on display at RHS Chelsea as well as brand new varieties like the compact R. ‘Jessica de Rothschild’. David Millais said: This is such a good new variety. I think it is the best rhododendron ever to be raised at Exbury and its neat habit and prolific flowering makes it ideal for smaller gardens.

The RHS Chelsea exhibit will aim to evoke the spirit of Exbury with show-stopping rhododendrons as well as a miniature working railway and ticket office as a nod to Exbury’s renowned steam railway.

Lionel de Rothschild, grandson of Exbury’s founder, said: This year we are celebrating the centenary of the creation of Exbury Gardens, safeguarding the past and planning the future of this magical place.

Exbury Gardens has had a long relationship with the RHS and the Chelsea Flower Show with both Lionel de Rothschild and his great grand-daughter, Marie-Louise Agius, winning Gold Medals. Millais Nurseries has also had huge successes gaining four consecutive Gold Medals in recent years.

This exhibition is part of a year-long celebration of events that Exbury has planned for 2019 which also includes the opening of a new Centenary Garden designed by Marie-Louise Agius.

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Marie-Louise Agius with Exbury's Head Gardener Thomas Clarke gearing up for RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

‘We recently had some friends from London to visit and were looking for something to entertain our young children for the day. We decided to give Exbury Gardens a try and I thought it was wonderful. We had Sunday lunch in the restaurant and the food was far superior to other local attractions so compliments to the chef. Walking through the gardens was beautiful with lots of little pathways to explore. I have lived in the Romsey area for many years and always thought Exbury was a little out of the way but it only took me 20 minutes from the motorway. We will definitely be a regular visitor from now on.’

Philip Moulds, New Forest

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