Exbury to the power of two

Part of the Exbury hybrid rhododendron display at Chelsea Flower Show 2019

It was lovely to get reacquainted with Exbury Garden's rhododendrons at Chelsea Flower Show this week. I first saw them at a GMG study day earlier in the year and it was great to remember that visit and how special the Exbury hybrids are.

The Chelsea display is a joint production by Exbury Gardens and Millais Nurseries - who specialise in rhododendrons - to celebrate the garden's centenary. In that time, three generations of the garden's owners - the Rothschild family -have raised over 1,000 hybrids.

Just a few of the rhododendrons at Exbury Gardens

Now Head Gardener Tom Clarke and his team are working with the nursery to ensure the rarer and more threatened hybrids in the collection are conserved. Tom explained this has to be done by careful propagation as any seed from the garden specimens won't come true (the hybrids are first generation offspring; true seed comes several generations later).

The nursery launched a wide selection of new varieties at the show, many of which are part of the Exbury/Millais propagation programme. If you ordered R. 'Beverley Lear', 'Dougie Betteridge' (a former Head Gardener), 'Jessica de Rothschild', 'Marcus Agius', or 'Rachel Foster' at Chelsea, your garden will have a nice link to Exbury.

Forget the plants, it's time for a train ride!

In addition to the floral display, the Chelsea exhibit has several nods to other garden features. There's a miniature railway, ticket office and train driver's cap incorporated into the design to highlight the immaculate steam railway - as shown above - for garden visitors to ride. We had the benefit of garden director Marie-Louise Agius (herself a show garden gold medal winner) as our driver on the day, and it's her cap (the one that doesn't fit her apparently!) which resides on the Chelsea exhibit.

The new Centenary Garden in April

As well as being an engine driver, Marie-Louise designed the new Centenary Garden, which extends the season of interest at Exbury. This is a more intimate, contemporary space within the garden's 200 acres and the planting focuses on late summer perennials. Even on a rainy day in late April it was an interesting garden, which will only get better as the season progresses. If you want to ID any of the plants Marie-Louise used, there's a neat board display at the garden's entrance, which means the garden can be enjoyed without seeing any labels.

What a transformation! The Centenary Garden in late May

As you can see, Emma's tweet earlier this week (pictured above) shows it's now beginning to take off in all its glory. She says there are still plenty of rhododendrons in flower, so get over there ASAP! 🙂


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