The Glade in Home Wood stretches down from the neo-Palladian house (Exbury House) that Lionel built around the smaller 18th century house. It is marked by a number of magnificent Cedars of Lebanon, planted in 1738 and a very tall Sequoiadendron gigantenum, the giant redwood from the U.S. Pacific Coast.
Cedar of Lebanon
On a nearby Oak tree hangs a Burmese temple bell, possibly brought back from the First Burmese War in the 1820s by Captain Marryat, who later wrote The Children of the New Forest; it hung in the Rothschild family home of Gunnersbury just outside London till Lionel brought it down to his new garden at Exbury. Near the bell is a planting of hybrid rhododendrons including, amongst others, the beautiful unblemished pink Rhododendron ‘Charlotte de Rothschild’, named after Edmund’s younger daughter. An oriental plane tree had been cunningly layered to snake out as a climbing tree.
One flank of the Glade has the Bridal Walk, a stunning study in red and white with the white evergreen azalea R. ‘Palestrina’ flanked by Rhododendron ‘Ivery’s Scarlet’.
The Home Wood paths are usually at their best around late April and early May, when rhododendrons such as the delicate ‘Dairymaid’ or the golden yellow ‘Duchess of Rothesay’ are resplendent. There is also a magnificent collection of magnolias, including the lofty Magnolia cambellii. Later in May the dogwoods light up the path with their creamy white and pink bracts.
By the crossroads grow a bank of lemon yellow Rhododendron ‘Hawk Crest’. In this plant Lionel realised his quest of creating a flower of absolutely pure yellow, although he did not live to see it. Also at the crossroads is the compact Rhododendron yakushiamanum, whose deep pink buds mature into delightful pure white flowers. Many beautiful Exbury hybrids line the way to St. Mary’s Spring, where ‘Mrs. Lionel’s Seat’, overlooks the bog primulas, ferns, giant Gunnera manicata (not a relative of rhubarb) and various forms of pieris.
Mrs. Lionel's Seat
The stream from the spring then passes under the Japanese Bridge to Top Pond, where carp and golden orfe swim lazily about as well as several varieties of duck. Damselfly hover around the primulas and iris at the water’s edge. The little island is shared by swamp cypress Taxodium distichum, and the late May flowering Rhoddodendron ‘ Purple Splendour’ whose deep colour complements the rich dark foliage of the copper beach opposite. A full display of Exbury and Solent deciduous azaleas surrounds the pond with fiery colours.
These same leaves shade a small waterfall which splashes into a series of pools, beside which grow Japanese maples, candelabra primulas and hostas.
It faces the Azalea Bowl (formerly the Wyniatt Bowl, named after the post-war head gardener Freddie Wyniatt), with its fine display of evergreen azaleas, whose reds, shocking pinks, fuschias, mauves and whites can almost be described as outrageous. This tapestry of colour also extends around the Lower Pond where a collection of the Wilson 50 azaleas from Kurume can be found.
The Winter Garden, so named for the earliest flowering shrubs found there, then stretches down to View Point from where the Isle of Wight can be seen across the marshes flanking the Beaulieu River and where the Arromanches Plaque now rests set in a block of Purbeck Stone. Here many large-leaved Rhododendron ‘Fortune’, with enormous yellow flower heads, grace the woods.
The Camellia Walks provide the first floral traits of the year. Whole trees are covered from top to bottom with bloom. The original Camellia Walk skirts the south-eastern edge of Home Wood. The New Camellia Walk, running roughly parallel with it and planted out with many American and New Zealand hybrid camellias and magnolias, provides an interesting contrast in styles.
The Daffodil Meadow offers a spectacular view of the Beaulieu River. Here will be found at the appropriate season ‘a crowd, a host of golden daffodils…beneath the trees fluttering and dancing, in the breeze’; withstanding the early frost, they form a brave sight on the cool early spring days. To maintain this spread of yellow innumerable new bulbs are planted year every year.
In the Summer this also turns into a fabulous meadow of wild flowers.
This small formal garden is enclosed by high yew hedges with an unsual stone pillar sundial as its centrepiece.
Featuring a pair of Tasmanian tree ferns, box hedges and topiary, the beds are filled with a mixture of exotic, tender and hardy perennials.
A magnificent ancient wisteria forms a shady canopy over the pergola where the visitor can sit and enjoy the garden throughout the year.
Witcher’s Wood is named after a family of charcoal-burners called Witcher who used to live in there. It contains many fine specimens of ornamental trees. Of particular note are Bewer’s Spruce, Picea breweriana, from the Siskyu mountains of California.
There is Juniperus recurve var. coxii and Juniperus recurve, known as the Coffin Tree because their aromatic wood is so highly esteemed by the Chinese for making coffins. Also from China is an Empress or Foxglove Tree, Paulowina tomentosa, which is recorded as gracing gardens there as early as the third century B.C.
Several Magnolias grow here including the Bigleaf Magnolia, Magnolia macrophylla, which has the largest leaves and flowers of any tree or shrub hardy in the British Isles.
Witcher’s Wood lies between Lover’s Lane and the Main Drive.
View of the Beaulieu River
Lover’s Lane leads towards the Beaulieu River. On each side are the banks of the Solent deciduous azaleas; this strain is more recent than the Knap Hill or Exbury azaleas, bearing more delightfully scented flowers with larger and tighter trusses. The colours span a spectrum from the pure white of R. ‘Mrs Antony Seys’ to the butter-yellow of R. ‘HRH Princess Margaret’ and on through the dark orange of R. ‘Beaulieu Manor’ to the deep red of R. ‘Bull’s Run’.
The central part of this Wood is one of the least formalised areas in the garden, and here can be found some of the most strikingly mature rhododendrons – the magnificent reds of Rhododendron ‘Kiev’ and Rhododendron ‘Gaul’ and the aptly named Rhododendron ‘Avalanche’, which sheds a carpet of white flowers, to name just a few. Straying from the main path, small grassy paths provide the visitor with glimpses of some of the taller and most beautiful rhododendrons in the garden.
Primula helodoxa in the Bog Garden
The restoration of the Bog Garden was the idea of Anne, Edmund’s second wife, and has a series of different views that cover the spring, summer, and a blaze of colour from the maples in autumn.
View of the Rock Garden
The Rock Garden took over four years to build and is probably the largest of its kind in Europe, covering some two acres. During the war this fell into neglect but was reclaimed and replanted in the late seventies. It is an ideal setting for Alpine rhododendron species from the higher elevations of the Himalayas. Ground hugging dwarf hybrid rhododendrons, Juniperus scopulorum ‘Sky Rocket’ and other rock plants grow around the large stones.
Yard Wood was the last part of the garden to be developed. It derives its name from the many yew trees growing here. The wood of the yew was used for yardsticks which formed the bows of the archers in medieval times, and folklore has it that one of these Exbury trees was mentioned in the Domesday book.
On the left is Hydrangea Walk, the inspiration of Leopold de Rothschild. By mid-summer the Herbaceous Gardens come into their own, with a focus on cooler blue and mauves from the Teller hybrid hydrangeas.
This leads to the Boardwalk, recently planted with tree ferns, bamboo, gunnera and wollemi pine.
Azalea Drive. The main drive continues through the garden passing the dark crimson Rhododendron ‘Bibiani’ and some new plantings of Rhododendron ‘Loderi’ to an impressive sweep of deciduous azaleas.
Interplanted with maples and backed by pines this provides a colourful spectacle in the spring when the azaleas are in full flower, and again in the autumn when the maples predominate. Flowering cherries and the white purple-flushed Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Brozzonii’ frame a view of Jubilee Pond named to celebrate King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935.
The American Garden
In the American Garden there is a comprehensive collection of rhododendrons from the USA, which were planted here after the severe storms in the late 1980s. Further on, a group of eucryphia will provide spectacular colour in the later summer. Here one can get glimpses of the railway which was completed in 2001. This has opened up a new area which includes a splendid timber viaduct.