2024 marks a special year for Exbury Gardens’ famed Azalea Bowl with themed guided tours available to book. 

The stunning Azalea Bowl at Exbury Gardens in Hampshire

Source: Stephen Studd

2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the most photographed features of the gardens, the Azalea Bowl.

Planted in 1964 by former head gardener Freddie Wynniatt, the feature surrounds a large pond in the gardens which reflects a kaleidoscope of reds, pinks, purples and whites each April and May. 

The Azalea Bowl has witnessed numerous marriage proposals and is probably the most photographed spot at Exbury in the New Forest. The gardens’ team will be running special azalea-themed guided tours this year and visitors will be encouraged to send in their photographs taken in the Azalea Bowl over the years for a special commemoration page on Exbury’s website.

Head gardener Tom Clarke said: “It’s a real privilege to be curating the Azalea Bowl as it’s such an iconic horticultural landscape, a real crown jewel at Exbury. And with the high rainfall we’ve been having, it looks set to be a great spring. Our plant collections have lots of buds so it looks really promising for a fantastic start to the season.”

The daffodil meadow at Exbury Gardens, Hampshire

Thousands of daffodils bloom in Exbury’s Meadow which leads down to the picturesque Beaulieu River.

Exbury Gardens opens for the year on 9th March when spring bulbs should be at their optimum, including the Daffodil Meadow. Visitors will be able to enjoy the gardens’ renowned camellia and magnolia collection will be in bloom, and the recent wet weather means the plants are covered in lots of buds, a sign they should be on track for a brilliant flowering season.

Indoors, an exhibition of lachenalia plants, also known as leopard lilies, and orchids will be on show in the Five Arrows Gallery. Entrance to the exhibition will be included in the admission price.

Group offers at Exbury

There are special rates for groups of 15 or more visiting Exbury and GTOs and coach drivers receive free admission.  

Several guided tour options are available including a Meet and Greet service, which includes a 30-minute welcome to the gardens, and a Senior Gardener Tour which is said to be great for horticulture enthusiasts and involves a detailed tour of a selected area of the gardens, picking out plants of note and offering insights into their significance  at Exbury.

The on-site Mr Eddy’s restaurant offers various set group menu options, which you can book before your visit by calling 02380 898737 or emailing exbury@thelittlekitchencompany.com

A couple in the Azalea Bowl of Exbury Gardens, Hampshire

The Azalea Bowl is transformed with dramatic coloured flowers and trees in April and May each year.

Other 2024 highlights will include:

June: The 300th anniversary of landscape designer William Gilpin’s birth. A proponent of the Picturesque style, he promoted the idea that ‘nature knew best’ and encouraged Exbury’s owner at the time, William Mitford, to open up a view from Exbury House to the Isle of Wight, install a ha-ha and create the Glade, all of which still remain today.

July: For Dragonfly Week, experts Ruary Mackenzie Dodds and Kari de Koenigswarter will be leading walks and talks on these fascinating insects centred around Exbury’s Dragonfly Pond, a British Dragonfly Society hotspot.

August/September: Seasonal spotlight on hydrangeas with guided tours by Exbury’s garden team. 

For group bookings, call 02380 891203, email info@exbury.co.uk or download a booking form from the website.