The Story of the Exbury/Vico Nerines
Lionel de Rothschild
Sir Peter Smithers

     Lionel de Rothschild acquired many nerines throughout the 1920s and '30s and with judicious hybridization, a specialty of his, significantly improved on the strain. The Exbury Nerines continued to grow here at Exbury until the 1970s when the collection was sold off.
     One of the purchasers was Sir Peter Smithers who had seen them at Exbury with Lionel. A noted horticulturalist, Sir Peter had bought his first nerines when he was fourteen, but he began serious breeding of nerines when he was MP for Winchester in the 1960s. A brief interregnum took place while he was Secretary-General of the EU in Strasbourg. 
      He took up growing Nerines again when he moved to Vico Morcote, a house he built for himself overlooking Lake Lugarno in Switzerland. When the opportunity to augment his nascent breeding programme with the Exbury Nerines came up he took on the challenge to improve upon what had gone before.

     This he did most spectacularly. His selection process was rigorous, all new seedlings had to undergo the 'Beauty Contest' which was held each autumn on the balcony of his house. His friends were invited to form a jury and were asked to forget about any consideration other than beauty as they saw it.
      Each new flower was compared to its parents and to the others in its colourway. Marks were given and the top plants went on to survive in the collection for another year.          Sir Peter evaluated his crosses, giving marks out of five for each of the following points: colour, form and size of florets, shape and size of the flower head and length and strength of the stem.
     In 1995 Sir Peter met with Nicholas de Rothschild. He mooted the idea that it was time for the collection to pass from him and "would Exbury like to take it on from where he had got to?". It was thus that Exbury has retaken the mantle and is now home to the much improved breeding programme of the Vico/Exbury Nerines.

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