Centenary of Hampshire’s Exbury Gardens to be celebrated at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

May 14, 2019

100 years since Lionel de Rothschild founded great 200-acre woodland garden at Exbury in New Forest, now considered to be one of the finest in the UK

  • Exhibit by Millais Nurseries at RHS Chelsea will evoke the spirit of Exbury with stunning rhododendrons, miniature working railway and ticket office
  • Display will also highlight joint conservation work to safeguard Exbury’s rare rhododendrons 

The centenary of Hampshire’s Exbury Gardens, and a project to conserve its unique plants, will be marked at the world’s most famous flower show, RHS Chelsea Flower Show, next week (21-25 May) with a colourful exhibit of rare rhododendrons.

In the plant-packed display, Exbury’s importance in the horticultural world will be highlighted as well as the role of Exbury’s creator, Lionel de Rothschild, who helped fund many of the early 20thcentury plant hunters and bred hundreds of new rhododendron varieties.

With the New Forest gardens now celebrating 100 years, a project is underway to conserve the ‘crown jewels’ of Exbury’s rhododendron collection. Exbury’s head gardener Thomas Clarke has been working closely with rhododendron experts Millais Nurseries to ensure future generations of visitors can continue to discover the colourful wonder of these beautiful plants, some of which will be on display at RHS Chelsea for the first time.

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

Thomas Clarke, head gardener at Exbury, said: “Lionel de Rothschild was passionate about rhododendrons and thanks to him we not only have the beautiful gardens at Exbury to enjoy but also hundreds of varieties of these wonderful plants. It’s fitting that in Exbury’s centenary year, his work will be celebrated at the most famous flower show in the world.”

The banker Lionel de Rothschild created the gardens in 1919, spending 20 years developing a stunning 200-acre woodland paradise. He was a highly successful breeder of many different rhododendrons, sourcing rare seed from famous plant hunters. Over 1,000 varieties 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 rhododendrons in its collection. Through careful grafting, young plants of these varieties have been produced which are now being planted back in the garden at Exbury.

Millais Nurseries in Surrey grows one of the widest ranges of rhododendrons and azaleas in the world with an unparalleled experience, 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.

This will be the first time these two notable historic rhododendron growers have exhibited together at RHS Chelsea. Many of the famous heritage Exbury rhododendrons will be on display at as well as brand new varieties.

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 exhibit 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.