Exbury Gardens

by Don Hyatt

The Exbury Estate

How exciting for me to finally visit Exbury Gardens. You see, I planted my first garden at age 3 and first azaleas by age 6. By age 7 or 8, I was already admiring pictures of the famed Exbury Azaleas having seen them in bloom at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. As a token of appreciation for our country's support during the second World War, the Dutch government gave our to our National Arboretum a large collection of deciduous azaleas in 1947, the year I was born.

Throughout elementary and high school, each spring my parents would take me to see the azalea collection at the National Arboretum, and I can remember the beauty and the fragrance of their collection of Exbury Azaleas. Although not all of the plants were officially Exbury hybrids, many of the specimens planted in the "Azalea Valley" were the latest introductions from Exbury, magnificent hybrids with huge flowers in glorious colors from yellow, gold, and orange-red to soft shades of pink, salmon, and white, often sporting brilliant gold flares. Sadly, most of those plants are gone now. However, now in my 50's I finally had a chance to see original plants and the magnificent landscape surrounding the Exbury Estate where these azaleas and many famous rhododendrons were created, the plants that inspired me at such an early age. A retired school teacher, I was taking my first trip to see the great gardens of England and Ireland and I was on my way to Exbury!

Exbury Gardens were started at the family estate by Lionel de Rothschild in 1919. After his death in 1942, they have been maintained by his son, Sir Edmund de Rothschild. Open to the public, the enormous garden covers approximately 250 acres. On our tour, we were supposed to spend the entire afternoon at Exbury, but unfortunately our arrival was significantly delayed. As we pulled into the parking area, a little after 4:00 PM, we were informed that the gardens closed at 5:00, so we would have to make it a "quick tour."

How does one appreciate 250 acres of glorious gardens in peak condition in only 45 minutes? The best way I could imagine would be to run as fast as I could, snap as many pictures as possible, and then enjoy the views after I got home when I could see my slides. Fortunately for us, it had been raining most of the day and the crowds were already rather small. When we arrived, fate smiled even further as the sun came out to give us a grand show. Most of the hoards had already left, so we seemed to have Exbury all to ourselves.

An interesting side note is that for the past 30 years or so, I have been hybridizing Exbury and Knaphill azaleas in my back yard. One of two hybrids I have registered, "Yellow Cloud", appeared on the front of the spring 1983 Journal of the American Rhodoendron Society in the same issue with an article about Exbury. Shortly after the Journal was published, I was surprised to receive an inquiry from the famous Edmund de Rothschild about the cover photograph. He thought it looked like one of their introductions, "Princess Margaret of Windsor", and perhaps there was a mixup. I assured him that the picture was the truss of my plant that won best deciduous azalea at the 1982 ARS Convention. I only had a few Exbury azaleas of my own, and the rest of my plants were just seedlings. I had never seen Princess Margaret of Windsor. An amateur hybridizer working in a small back yard, I finally had a chance to see the Exbury Estate and their hybrids. So much to see, but so little time!

In the section below, you can see a few of the many pictures I took in my very rushed tour of Exbury. Running madly, I got to most of the garden areas except a section near the rock garden and train. While racing through the garden, I really didn't have a chance to appreciate the exquisite beauty of this place, but my camera certainly did. I'm not sure if I saw the azalea "Princess Margaret of Windsor" since there was no time to look for tags among the many yellow azaleas in bloom. I would just point, click, and run to the next scene. As we were leaving the garden, as you can see in my final slide at Exbury to the left, we noticed Sir Edmund de Rothschild beside his cart at the gates. He was helping to direct the few remaining cars out of the parking area and I am sure we were the very last one. I wanted to stop to say "Hi", but we had already lingered past closing time. Perhaps another day...

Vistas of Exbury Gardens

Rhododendron Paths

Secluded Rooms


Ancient Trees

Scenic Highlights



The Bridge

Expansive Lawns

The Famous Exbury Azaleas

Exbury Azaleas

Exbury Azalea

Exbury Azalea

Exbury Azaleas

The Pond and Black Swans

Black Swan Pond


Still Waters

Black Swan and Baby