Special collections

Plants at Exbury Gardens

Lionel de Rothschild was a keen collector of plants, particularly rhododendrons and azaleas. He was also a highly successful hybridiser of many different species and Exbury is still filled with his creations. This tradition has been continued by his descendants, his sons Edmund and Leopold and grandsons Nicholas and Lionel, who actively continue to develop the gardens to this day.

Lionel had several strands in his hybridisation programme, but it was generally dominated by a desire to produce increased hardiness, better flowering and improved colours. He was also keen to extend the flowering season. In the years that Lionel devoted to Exbury, he made innumerable crosses of which he kept only the best. The reject seedlings, some having taken years to grow, would be unceremoniously consigned to a bonfire as part of his rigorous selection programme. Out of the survivors only what he considered the very finest were kept. His stud book records 1,210 hybrids that he considered successful. He further analysed these and decided that 452 were worthy of being individually named and registered with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Subsequent generations of have continued to hybridise and Rothschild crosses continue to grace the show benches of the R.H.S; where Lionel’s crosses all have sub sequential LR numbers, Edmund’s have ER numbers.


Trees have been grown at Exbury for hundreds of years. Some of the earliest cultivated trees at Exbury date back to 1729, a large Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) planted by the Mitford family can be found in Home Wood below the House in the Glade. Exotic trees were further added by Lord Forster from 1860 and include the large Redwood tree (Sequoiadendron giganteum) in the Glade. When Lionel de Rothschild purchased the estate in 1919, he had a good base on which to build one of the most impressive woodland gardens in the British Isles. He added many species new to cultivation from sponsored plant hunters like George Forrest, Harold comber and Frank Kingdon-Ward. His work was carried on after his death in 1942 by his son Edmund, and for the next sixy years he added greatly to the collection.

In 2007, the gardens gained National Collection status for the genus Nyssa and Oxydendrum. In 1996, Exbury became a Charitable Trust and today under the guidance of the Board of Directors, Exbury continues to manage and plant new specimens ensuring that this world-famous garden is amongst the finest arboretums in the country.


Exbury Collections: Lachenlia


The lovely Leopard Lily, endangered in its native South Africa, is thriving at Exbury Gardens.

Beautiful and unusual, these tender plants, have been collected by Nicholas de Rothschild, and are displayed in Exbury’s Five Arrows Gallery during March.

Leopard Lilies (Lachenlia) grow from bulbs which flower from late autumn through early spring. The delicate spotting or mottling on the leaves of some species, like that of a leopard’s coat, has given rise to the popular name.

The Exbury collection, which encompasses many different species and hybrids, is comprehensive, showing a range of colour and form from the golden L. aloides through to other with magenta, coral, yellow, blue, purple, and pink bell-like flowers.


Exbury Collections: Nerines (Jewel Lilies)


Lionel de Rothschild first developed and hybridised the tender greenhouse –loving Nerines at Exbury in the 1920s and ‘30s, coming up with many classic blooms. The collection was dispersed in 1974 when the best bulbs were acquired by enthusiast and plantsman extraordinaire Sir Peter Smithers for his garden at Vico Morcote in Switzerland.

In 1995 Sir Peter returned the collection to Exbury, where Nicholas de Rothschild, Lionel’s grandson, has taken up the challenge of continuing the strain. Originally found on Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town in South Africa, the jewel lilies flower in a spectrum of colours from their original oranges, scarlet and white through new purples, pinks, mauves, reds, scarlets, copper and bronzes. They scintillate in the sunshine with gold or silver crystalline flecks that make their petals sparkle. The Nerines are displayed in the Five Arrows every October.


Monthly Flowering Features

The list below outlines some of the flowers and colour you can expect to see in the gardens across different months of the year, and there are plenty of other plants to see as well as those mentioned below.

If you would like to find out if there is a specific plant in flower before your visit, then please email us at .


In flower: April, May

Flower 1



In flower: May

Flower 2



In flower: March, April



Candelabra Primulas

In flower: June




In flower: March




In flower: September




In flower: June (and October for autumnal colour)




In flower: August




In flower: September




In flower: March, April, May




In flower: August




In flower: June




In flower; March, April




October for autumnal colour




October for autumnal colour




In flower: April




In flower: April, May, June




In flower: September




In flower: June




In flower: May, June


‘A truly fantastic day out. My wife and I were bowled over by the amazing spring colours of rhododendrons and azaleas and there was literally colour everywhere. There are beautiful areas to walk through as well as places to sit. We took a picnic in the hope of being able to sit by one of the ponds and were not disappointed – the reflections were as spectacular as the real thing! The next thing we want to do is return in the autumn to see the colours change as it must be beautiful’

David Parker, Christchurch

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