Though I have visited many gardens, Exbury was unknown to me until its Coach Outing listing. So without any expectations, the two hour journey south east from Bradford, which started in rain and murkiness, pleasingly ended up in sunshine and sheer delight. The two hundred acre woodland garden, one of the large Rothschild family’s numerous bolt holes, forming part of the New Forest National Park, near Beaulieu, was an enthralling experience.
I had decided to ignore the narrow gauge railway and the Four Seasons Art Exhibition, but, with everybody making a bee line for Mr Eddy’s Tea Room, armed with a camera plunged directly into the hidden delights of nature. The almost immediate impression was one of wonder and delight, with the original forest of magnificent oaks, beeches, pines, cedars and chestnuts, being very sensitively manipulated to create breathtaking vistas, glades, meadows and water features at the same time being under planted with maples, magnolias and then smaller rhododendrons, azeleas ( twelve hundred new varieties of which have been raised at the garden ) at their peak in May with white, peach, apricot, orange and gold-coloured flowers. Swathes of daffodils were all but over but there were bluebells, bugles, umbellifers, ferns, irises, gunneras and surprisingly vast areas of ground covering grasses and mosses. The sound of the first cuckoo of Spring could be heard in the distance.
It was surprising to find a long way south on the river a memorial for the naval crews who had lost their lives at Arromanche. Having stood on Gold Beach eighteen months before it reminded me of listening at school to Alvar Lidell announcing the D Day landings on the 6 June 1944.
Although extremely tired, having to leave was a wrench.
Words and photographs: Ian Stevenson