‘Gardens and Arboretum were headquarters for D-Day Landings’

November 20, 2016


WAR EFFORT: Exbury House and the estate were used as a “stone frigate” and headquarters for the planning of the D-Day amphibious landing assault.



LAST VIEW: Those who set sail for D-Day for Arromanche and did not return would have had their last glimpse of the UK here at the River Solent and Beaulieu.


JURASSIC SCENE: This space has been created over the course of time by the staff on the Exbury estate. It reminds me of a scene from Jurassic Park, with the very large ferns in the foreground.


POND LIFE: This is one of the ponds interspersed among the woodland walks. It is inhabited by a number of large fish, including Koi Karp, and this noticeably freaked out my family’s dog.


MEMORIAL PLAQUE: This plaque is dedicated to the landing crews of the craft who were trained and briefed at Exbury Gardens ahead of the D-Day landing in 1944.



CHANGING SEASONS: The colours of the trees on this visit made us all aware how quickly the year had gone.


A GARDEN in the heart of the New Forest has been a magnet to visitors of model railways and exotic species of shrubs and trees.

Lionel de Nathan Rothschild bought the Exbury Gardens estate near Totton, Southampton, in 1919 from Lord Forster. Positioned where it was on the Solent, it boasts a micro-economic climate ideal for growing foreign plants such as rhododendron.

Mr Rothschild built up this garden when plant collectors and explorers such as George Forrest, Joseph Rock and Frank Kingdom-Ward were travelling the world bringing back plants such as the rhododendron and Balsam that were previously unknown to Europe. This was particularly the case for remote regions of the Himalayas and South-east Asia.

His dedication and resources were put to use when 250 men were hired to clear out the woodland, set paths, enrich the soil and ready for the new arrivals. Twenty-two miles of underground piping were put down to give them a sound future through a comprehensive irrigation system.

When I visited on the first Sunday of November, it was literally the last day it was opened for this year but as some of the photos on this article shows, they caught the autumnal colours that we all cherish at this time of year.

The twenty miles of paths feature a number of ponds (inhabited by very large Koi carp and other fish), three woods and parkland.

Trees have been associated with the Exbury estate for hundreds of years and this tradition dates back to 1729 when a large cedar from Lebanon was planted by the Mitford family and large trees added by Lord Forster include some Sequoia specimens from the United States.

The estate became a charitable trust in 1996 and under the stewardship of its directors, it continues to be managed in this way and introduce new specimens, maintaining its reputations as one of the best arboretums in the UK.

During the 2nd World War – particularly from 1942 onwards – Exbury House was taken over by the Admiralty was used as a base for the mooring and training of the landing craft crews who would carry out the D-Day landings in early of 1944. The house was commissioned as a “stone frigate”.

Therefore the estate’s role was vital in the amphibious assault that led to the liberation of Europe. Many of those who trained and left from the Beaulieu River landed at the beach near the Normandy town of Arromanche and it was here that many of those who participated in this event experienced heavy shelling.

A commemorative plaque that was previously installed at the Allied Forces Memorial, Arromanche, and it was replaced in 2002 with a memorial at Exbury Gardens at the bequest of the LST and the Landing Craft Association and the Exbury Veterans Association.

  • TO reach Exbury Gardens from east Dorset or elsewhere from the West Country, turn off at Junction 2 on the M27 and follow the A326 to Beaulieu (and the signs to Beaulieu), and this will lead to you Exbury Gardens. Please note it will not be open daily again until the spring of next year. For events over Christmas, visit their website which will be on a backlink in blue.

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