True, Rhodoland (in my mind a portmanteau term for rhododendrons, azaleas and all the spring things we associate with them, and the gardens they grow in) has never really admitted me as a member. I’ve never had the soil or the climate (you could say the terroir) they need to flourish. But last month at Exbury I got the full eyeful. I’ve known Exbury Garden for years, and loved it, but last month was the jackpot. You wander, bedazzled, down corridors of colour, Bond Streets of jewels, your nose embalmed with sweetness, green-locked from the real world.
You pass a pond swirling with carp in orange and gold. You’ve caught a distant glimpse of white yachts on a magic river, when the curtains draw back and you are in The Bowl, a sequestered little valley brimming with azaleas. Not just azaleas in all their shades of pink and purple and many interpretations of red, but a supporting cast of lacy maples and quietly assertive dogwoods, framed under a wide window of sky by the powerful presence of oaks.
This is gardening’s Sistine chapel. Along with the white garden at Sissinghurst it stands apart, the apotheosis of its race, the parson’s nose of horticulture.