Dear mummy, we’re on our way to Southampton today! It’s a bright and sunny Good Friday (which makes a change for an Easter Bank Holiday) everyone is in cars heading to the South.
We catch a little bit of traffic on the M3 and M27 but before we know it we are off the motorway heading down towards Hythe and into the New Forest. Exbury Gardens is a famous garden in Hampshire, which belongs to the Rothschild family just outside Beaulieu. The gardens and layout were created by Lionel de Rothschild who owned it from 1919. He came from the Rothschild banking family, so he was very rich but described himself as a “banker by hobby, a gardener by profession”. He spent a huge amount of time and money, travelling abroad Lionel collected many specimens from around the world and planted them in his garden, in the early 1920s he set out to create new hybrids. He created around 1200 hybrids which are known as ‘The Exbury Collection’. OOooo special!
Entrance to Exbury Gardens costs £11 with Gift Aid and under 3’s is free. Mummy also purchases our train fare for £4 and a family fun trail programme for £1.50, filled with a map and useful fact finding activities for the days walk. The reception staff are very friendly and give us directions to main attractions. There are over 20 miles of pathways around the gardens, so we have a lot of walking to do today!
Exbury gardens is famous for it’s technicolor blooms such as the world famous Rhododendrons, Azaleas and the woodland bluebells. It also has a Steam Train running around the north part of the gardens which we were determined to get on. So before we head into the gardens mummy makes a note to visit back to Exbury Central Station to get our train ride in.
Our first pit stop is the Tea Garden for a spot of lunch. We discover a hidden side gate which leads to the Sundial Garden, a ‘secret garden’ hidden away from the beaten track (well just behind the tea garden) We unroll our picnic blanket and hide in the corner of the garden. It’s so quiet here, daddy gets some tea and sandwiches and we enjoy lunch in this tranquil spot. We love looking at the Wisteria hanging from the pillars, even though it’s not in bloom yet it still looks fabulous with it’s twisted branches hugging the stonework. It’s kinda creepy in a Sleepy Hollow way. I hope I don’t have nightmares later!! We stay here for nearly an hour enjoying the sunshine, until other visitors notice us and come through the gates, flooding our tranquil scene with a flourish of camera lenses and chatter.
We exit the Sundial garden and leisurely walk pass the Daffodil Meadow, down towards Home Wood where we see some beautiful carpets of Bluebells under the large trees. I try to walk through the bluebells but end up stomping on them so mummy quickly removes me and places me on the path.
We double back past Lovers Lane and follow the signposts and take some photos of the beautiful flowers. I have a run around in The Iris Garden and then we slowly walk (baby steps) towards the Grand House. Mummy, these Rothschild people must have been very rich! The house is beautiful, but we’re not allowed to go inside as it’s private. It’s views overlook the Beaulieu River heading out into the Solent, we presume, as we see sailing boats drift past.
On the way past the Grand house I noticed the giant Burmese Bell, I need to go back and investigate it, so we march across to it. It hangs from a Sessike Oak Tree at the entrance to The Glade. It’s very high and large! Daddy lifts me up to get a better look. Mummy taps it gently and it makes a deep hollow ring. ‘Dong, Dong’. It makes me giggle and I try to reach out for it. It would have been struck with a large stick to summon monks to prayer and Lionel Rothschild had it to summon him to lunch or dinner when he was out tending to his gardens or entertaining. It’s a temple bell and originally came from Burma and was brought back to England after the 1st Anglo-Burmese War 1824-26 by English troops.
From one bell shape to another we head down the colourful paths and mummy spots this little wonder and is instantly drawn to it because of it’s unusual shape. Mummy doesn’t know much about flowers but this one was beautiful and very distinct compared to the rest of the Rhododendrons and Azaleas around. We think it’s a Rhododendron ‘Drum Major’ or in gobbley gook a Rhododendron arboreum x Rhododendron griersonianum. It was created and lovingly brought up by Rothschild as a hybrid and introduced in 1936, so is very specific to these gardens and holds a lot of history. The flower is quite sturdy and mummy loves the deep bell-shape and blood red colour. Exbury is one of the finest Rhododendron Gardens in the world, holding an enormous collection of over ten thousand specimens which at their flowering peak in May are truly breathtaking. We can’t image it looking anymore splendid as it does today and it is truly breathtaking. You can see why they were Lionel de Rothschild passion. There are over 800 species of Rhododendrons mummy tells me. Woweee that’s a lot of family members!!
Exbury Gardens is also famous for its trees. Some are over 300 years old! We saw lots of grand trees like the huge Glade Trees towering into the sky. I cranked my head so far back it hurt my little neck! The Wiggly Tree, was Daddy’s favourite, it is an Oriental Plane (Platanus orientalis) with a large trunk surrounded by four horizontal thinner trunks that seem to have layered themselves in top of each other. Mummy, how did this happen? I thought trees were supposed to grow upwards into the sky. The tree has a very unusual shape and pretty, camouflaged bark. It reminds my Daddy of the Jack and the Beanstalk story. Part of the trunk is hollow and animals have made their home in it. The Wiggly Tree can be found just off the main Glade in the Home Wood. Lionel de Rothschild brought in some of these unusual trees during the early part of the twentieth century, creating glades in his garden. We spent hours sitting on the grass and looking around the gardens. I go for a little nap and can hear the distant ‘Ooooo’s and Ahhhhhhhh’s’ of Mummy and Daddy admiring the views over the Japanese Bridge and at the Top Pond. Before we know it it’s time to catch our train.
It’s 3’o’clock and we rush back through the jungle of plants up towards the entrance. When we get there the queue is massive! Oh no, mummy we’ve left it too late I think. But a quick conversation with a lovely lady at reception informs us that as it’s been busy today they will be running trains every half hour instead! What helpful and friendly people, so we rush to the platform and wait for the 3.30pm Steam Train. We meet some other little people in the queue and I am happy making friends and chatting to them about all the wonderful flowers I have seen today.
The Exbury Steam Railway was built in 2000–2001 as an additional attraction in the gardens. Two narrow locomotion’s were built specially for the line by the Exmoor Steam Railway. The railway is a member of Britain’s Great Little Railways. Little trains for little people I think! I’m very excited now as we hear it ‘chugging’ up the tracks to the platform. The train conductors are very knowledgable and happy telling stories of the railway and building up excitement even more in little people faces. Even mummy and daddy are excited about taking me on my first steam train ride EVER! Aboard the steam train we past the Rock Garden and Summer Lane Garden, as it’s Easter, giant eggs are hidden, along with other Easter characters and sculptures have feather bowers on and Easter bonnets.
Along the route we see interesting metal and moss sculptures and go through a dark tunnel. We reach Exbury North platform and one of the train conductors gives us an overview of the history of Exbury Gardens while the Easter Bunny, yes the Easter Bunny himself! Hands out mini eggs to all the children. Woweee mummy I got more than I bargained for on the 20 minutes Steam Train ride! A real highlight of our visit today and well worth a ride again when we visit next. By the time we arrive back at the main station it’s home time, we are all sad as we didn’t get round to doing half the things we wanted to at Exbury Gardens today, even though we’ve been here for 5 hours!!! We missed the History Tree, Jubilee Hill and the Ponds, I didn’t even have a good look in the new children’s play area opposite Mr Eddys Tea Room *sob* but we will be back!
This is a great day out for the whole family, you can even bring dogs on leads as it’s doggy friendly with large picnic areas and a chauffeur driven buggy to drive you around the whole estate. They also hold art exhibitions at Exbury Gardens! So much to see and do. I’m particularly looking forward to the spooky Halloween Ghost train event in October. But many more spring and summer months to enjoy a day at the gardens.
Thanks Exbury for keeping your gardens so beautiful and for a wonderful day that we won’t forget for a long time.