In the Spring, the 200 acres of Exbury Gardens near Beaulieu in the New Forest are transformed into a kaleidoscope of colour as the world-famous Rothshilds collection of rhododendrons, azaleas, and camelias burst into life after the winter months.
There are more than 20 miles of paths criss-crossing the gardens, and you can choose as many of those to explore as you like.
We visited on a cool and cloudy spring day at the end of April – but it was still spectacular.
The gardens were apparently described by one visitor as “heaven with the gates open” and it is a horticulturalist’s dream. But it’s appeal is far greater than just for gardeners.
The grounds make for a stunning peaceful walk down towards the Beaulieu River. There are so many different corners to explore. Formal gardens, informal gardens, ponds, meadows, a bog garden and a rock garden, woodlands with ancient yew trees, shady walks along rivers, and spring carpets of sapphire haze created by bluebells alongside bubbling streams.
There’s a special family ticket and kids enjoy its great outdoors, racing along in the wind and rain as happily as in bright sunshine, and tucking into a picnic at one of the little hideaway spots.
This isn’t an outing for the teenager, but little ones love the play area, the specially designed family trail and activities, and the steam railway which chugs and whistles its way happily through the Rhododendrons.
The Gardens are also dog-friendly. Although dogs have to be kept on a short lead, which can be tough when you’re walking with a mad and boisterous Beagle, Bonios are handed out as a matter of course in the tearooms.
On Sunday 27 May 2018 there’s a ‘Devoted to Dogs Day’ with discounts for those who bring along their four-legged friend.
At the exit gate is a small nursery with some specimens of the amazing plants in the collection to take home with you – worth a visit in its own right if you’re in the area.
If you finish by lunchtime, then we’d recommend the Royal Oak at Hilltop Beaulieu, just down the road, for a spot of lunch.
There’s a pizzeria menu, the usual pub food choices and sandwiches on slices of fresh bloomer bread. Our most recent choice was the ‘Butcher’s Board’, thick cut ham, scotch egg, black pudding croquette (which you can see my husband got to before I got my camera out), slices of rare roast beef, coarse pate, bread and mustardy dressed salad. A perfect choice for sharing between us – and unfortunately the Beagle.
Tickets and opening times for Exbury Gardens can be found here.