Exbury azaleas war commemoration set to bloom

Exbury Gardens' Azalea Bowl is beginning to flower, in time for upcoming VE day 70 celebrations.

Its connection with VE day comes through Freddie Wynniatt, Exbury’s post-war Head Gardener, who was a prisoner-of-war in an Austrian salt mine and never saw the light of day for weeks on end.
On his release, he was recalled to say that he would not deprive himself of the finer things in life, and on his return to Exbury – and under the supervision of owner Edmund de Rothschild – set about creating the vibrant Azalea Bowl, featuring all the colours that Freddie could only dream of during his period of captivity when he toiled in total darkness.
Owner Edmund de Rothschild was a keen hybridiser, and named one of his colourful rhododendron blooms ‘Fred Wynniatt’ – this too will be in flower in early May.
"We have much to thank Freddie for," said current Exbury head gardener John Anderson. "The Azalea Bowl is a magnet for visitors from around the world in early May. As a head gardener he had a vision. He would not have witnessed the full spectacle of the mature Azalea Bowl during his lifetime as he died in 1971 – but carefully arranged his plantings around the Middle Pond to maximise their effect."
Freddie Wynniatt was replaced by Douggie Betteridge as Exbury head hardener, and Betteridge remembers his old boss with affection: "Freddie was a skilled gardener who taught me the techniques of rhododendron layering. He never used to talk about the war, probably taking solace in his work. That said he was very sociable, a regular at the Exbury Club where his pictures playing for the cricket club can still be seen."
This year the Azalea Bowl is looking "wonderful", Anderson added.

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