Not everyone is fortunate enough to visit the magnificent gardens of both Compton Acres in Poole, Dorset and Exbury in Hampshire and be met by their owners and key staff members. Our hosts not only graciously outlined the history, their development philosophy and answered all our questions, they also escorted our group at a leisurely pace around two of England’s finest gardens. Kew is undoubtedly lucky to hold such prestige in the gardening world that members of our guild are afforded such generous hospitality.
It was a mixed group of 23, both members of the Kew Guild and their families that met in Compton Acres’s light and airy tea room to enjoy a welcoming cup of tea. There we were greeted by Bernard Merna, owner, Peter Thoday who advised Bernard in the initial stages when he bought the garden about restoration and planning issues and brought Mary Payne on board as an associate to manage the horticultural side of the garden. It was very informative to be made aware of the restraints behind the development and management of this stunning garden. Compton Acres is a relatively new garden that dates back only to the 1920’s. What it lacks in size just over 10 acres it more than compensates with floral displays evolving to meet public expectations whilst still maintaining a charm of its own.
The garden boasts a magnificent collection of over 3000 species of trees and shrubs and herbaceous plants, including some at the extreme limit of their hardiness in the U.K.
After a light lunch, we were free to explore at our leisure. The weather was mild and it was truly delightful to traverse and explore the wooded valley via its well-maintained paths and discover some of its many features, especially the stream with its cascades and water falls. In contrast the Italian garden functions to host special events. including marriage ceremonies and receptions.
Exbury’s 200 acre spread of rhododendrons include over 800 registered hybrids is deservedly world famous. Whilst after lunch the train ride epitomized the carefree nature of our visit, it was the warmth of our reception in the morning that set the tone to our visit. After welcoming us, Mr. Lionel de Rothschild explained the vision he is still developing, the important role his head gardener Thomas Clarke now plays, and what Mr. Rothschild’s forefather’s dedication, and resources had achieved. It is hard to believe that a staff of only 10 gardeners manage the maintenance of such a colossal undertaking. Species have been collected from around the world and hybridized to produce plants of improved colour, form and hardiness, many of which we were able to enjoy in bloom. Plants not meeting desired hybridizing objectives being ruthlessly destroyed.
A Toot, Toot, Tooting
I don’t think our president, Alan Stuttard could believe his luck when being given the opportunity to be co-engineer of Exbury Gardens’ miniature steam locomotive on a twenty-minute trip through part of the gardens. The train carried our party of 32 as well as our gracious host Lionel de Rothschild who had made this exclusive special arrangement. Alan seemed to re-live childhood memories of his grandfather who was an engine driver. He even managed to get us back safely to the station!
We were privileged to gain a first-hand insight and enjoy two truly delightful and magnificent gardens and David Hardman is to be commended for a superb job organizing the visits which ran like clockwork.
Brian Dodds, Landscape Architect and Kew graduate