Nature-friendly focus for visitors at New Forest’s Exbury Gardens in 2020

Exbury Gardens in the New Forest will be encouraging visitors of all ages to learn more about the natural world this year with a programme of wildlife-themed activities, and a new Dragonfly Pond education area and steam railway stop.

Building on the success of its 2019 centenary, the 200-acre woodland garden will be running a Wild Exbury programme of events when it opens for the season on 14 March until 1 November 2020. Visitors will get the chance to track wildlife around Exbury, learn bushcraft skills, pond dip, and identify rare plants and trees, as well as native wildflowers.

Dragonfly Pond learning zone, with floating pontoons for visitors to walk on so they can get close to the wildlife action, will be unveiled. Designed with the help of the UK’s leading dragonfly experts*, this area will boast interpretation boards filled with dragonfly facts and take-away tips on how you can encourage these wonderful creatures into your own back garden. An existing, large ornamental pond in the gardens has been adapted for the insects with dragonfly-friendly, native aquatic and marginal plants.

Dragonflies are crucial bio-indictors of the health of the UK’s rivers, canals and ponds, but modern-day development, drainage and climate change have meant their numbers have fallen dramatically. By creating a dragonfly education space, Exbury Gardens hopes to boost awareness of their plight and inspire visitors to help protect them. Exbury’s Dragonfly Pond area will also include an outdoor shelter which will act as a classroom for local groups and school children. The zone will be open to visitors from late spring.

And steam railway buffs will be chuffed as Exbury’s famous Rhododendron Line steam railway will now be able to stop at the Dragonfly Halt platform, so visitors can easily disembark to explore the new pond area.

Other developments at Exbury in 2020 include a new Birch Walk leading down to Jubilee Pond, and a refurbished Iris Garden containing hundreds of stunning new iris plants, and tree ferns.

Thomas Clarke, head gardener at Exbury, said: “The gardens at Exbury are rightly famous for their unique plant collections but they also offer visitors a wonderful opportunity to get closer to nature. We have 200 acres of incredible woodland gardens, wildflower meadows and ponds to explore, plus lots of wildlife to spy.”

Created by Lionel de Rothschild in 1919, a passionate collector of plants and a keen supporter and sponsor of the early 20th century plant hunters, Exbury has grown to become a stunning garden paradise filled with rare plants, shrubs and trees. Its Centenary Garden, designed by Lionel’s great grand-daughter and RHS gold medal award-winning designer, Marie-Louise Agius, opened to the public last year, as did the River of Gold, around 150,000 mainly yellow spring bulbs planted in the lawns, weaving around rare trees near Exbury House, to give a colour burst.

Exbury is most famous for its unrivalled collection of rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas. Thousands of rhododendrons have been planted over the years and well over 1,000 hybrids have been raised by three generations of the Rothschild family.

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