This popular meeting of the Tree Forum was attended by more than 50 PlantNetwork members, with more on the waiting list. Nicholas de Rothschild welcomed us to Exbury and told us a little of its history.
Exbury Gardens were the inspiration of his grandfather, Lionel de Rothschild, who had bought the estate in 1919 and developed the 200-acre woodland garden. He was passionate about rhododendrons and a keen collector of trees and shrubs, sponsoring plant hunters and expeditions. As well as vast collections of rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias, there are notable, mature collections of North American conifers, Japanese acers, Nyssa and American oaks. A huge Atlantic cedar may be the oldest in the country.
John Anderson, Head Gardener, led tours of Yard Wood and Home Wood and discussions on managing this large historic collection, while planning for the future. We discussed the removal of large mature specimens in order to open up vistas, let in more light, give rare trees space to grow and be seen, or to make room for new plantings. Quercus cerris and Q. ilex, originally planted to provide cover, had seeded and been left to grow; these were now being removed. The soil is very free-draining and rainfall has declined in recent years, leading to the loss of many specimens.
Arboricultural work is carried out by Christopher Hoare Tree Services, in an agreed programme of work across the garden. They demonstrated the use of the Boa cabling system (they considered it easier to use than Cobra) to brace the crown of a split Tilia platyphyllos. The Iris Botanical Garden software system is used for plant records.
A special exhibition of some of Nicholas de Rothschild’s huge collection of Nerine sarniensis cultivars, originally developed and hybridised by his grandfather, was very colourful.
At the end of the day, we were treated to a ride on the steam train, which takes visitors through areas inaccessible on foot. Three of the four major events in the year are based on the train, attracting many visitors to the Gardens.