RHS Garden Wisley

Just over half an hour’s drive from Kingsfold is RHS Wisley, one of the world’s greatest gardens. Absolutely packed with inspiration, it’s a total joy and a must-visit for keen gardeners – and anyone who would enjoy a double dose of natural zing!

Stunning structure and perfect planting at Wisley

‘Lockdown’ has meant that the garden’s doors have been shut to visitors for too long. However, the considerable RHS team have clearly used the time industriously as ever, with several new gardens, demonstration areas and the construction of a beautiful discovery building with curved roof and footprint harmoniously melting into the landscape since my last shot in the arm there.

See it’s own website for a glimpse of the breadth and depth of Wisley’s offerings and work. There really is something for everyone, with special events to promote learning, or simply enjoyment of the natural environment, throughout the year.

Spring at Wisley – grey skies but sunshine emanating from the planting.

I visited early one Sunday morning at the start of May, before the sun had remembered that it was, by then, late spring. But the grey weather did not put off hoards of enthusiastic visitors, who arrived in a steady stream as I waited in the car park for my daughter, Holly, to join me.

Ready to dive into the delights of Wisley!

The 240 acre site is plenty big enough to absorb it’s 1,232,772 enthusiastic visitors each year. The second most visited paid for garden in the UK (after Kew), Wisley’s original 60 acre site was gifted to the RHS upon the death of its owner: businessman, scientist, inventor and keen gardener George Fergusson Wilson. A former Treasurer of the Royal Horticultural Society, George had purchased the site in 1878 and created ‘Oakwood Experimental Garden’. His plan was to experiment how best to succeed with plants that were perceived to be difficult to grow. This ethos of experimentation, research and discovery remains amongst the many scientists, RHS students and inquisitive gardeners fastidiously employed in work or ‘play’ there each day.

Purple pops of Alium in the long spring grass

A garden of inspiration – the destination for those wondering which variety of apple tree to grow, how to train it, or what size root stock to start with; you will find examples in spade fulls of any plant or horticultural project you want to undertake.

The 75 garden staff, 25 students, four apprentices and 100 volunteers are all experts, and happy to break for a chat about green matters, giving practical advice, asking the right questions, and understanding that not all have the budgets or scope that they may be working with.

Wildlife, jungle, arid, Japanese, English country, or formal are all just tastes of Wisley’s different areas to absorb, inform and incite.

Or just potter, enjoy beautifully presented refreshments in one of the restaurants or outdoor hospitality stands, and chill – or bask, depending on your preference!

Glass houses

As well as an enviable range of demonstration and working greenhouses, Wisley is home to a gigantic glasshouse. The 2 floors offer different perspectives of the tropical planting and the warm atmosphere provides an other worldly haven in all seasons. Built by the electronic experts Siemens, it seems that no expense has been spared in creating an extraordinarily breathtaking structure, in function and form.

Covering an area equivalent to 10 tennis courts, and rising 40 foot, the highly technical structure looks like a vast, glass cathedral. Inside, it is a carefully curated jungle – where tender plants are worshipped; as much by those caring for them as those visiting. There are 3 climatic zones; tropical, moist temperate & dry temperate.

Following the pathway through the glasshouse, the environment and climate gradually changes. The pathway leads you through the world in plants, many of which are rare & endangered species.

Exhibitions

Wisley often hosts special exhibitions or events – outdoor sculptures are one of my favourite. The beautiful, varied setting, with so many areas to ‘discover’, is perfect for displaying substantial visiting works of art. Just after the garden’s reopening following Lockdown, in May 2021, there was indeed a special exhibition of sculptures in the grounds; but a very different offering to anything I have seen in the elegant grounds before:

“An unmissable exhibition of larger-than-life sculptures – The Four Seasons by contemporary American sculptor and filmmaker Philip Haas – features at RHS Garden Wisley, near Woking in Surrey, from 9 March 2020 t0 27 June 2021.

Standing proud at nearly 5m tall, the figures are 3-D interpretations of paintings by 16th-century Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo. The exquisitely detailed pieces imagine Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter in human form, rendered with exuberant arrangements of seasonal fruit, vegetables, flowers and crops”. (Wisley’s website: What’s on?)

Described as ‘offering a bold new perspective’ the enormous (almost gross, I felt!) busts are indeed ‘exuberant’, and quite a sight to behold..!

Five Facts about Wisley

  • The original laboratory, housed in the old manor house, was opened in 1907. Wisley works on a grand scale, and the available space was soon found to be inadequate. The offices & research facility was expanded, with the exterior being rebuilt during World War I, when the building was also designated Grade II listed status in 1985.
  • The construction of the vast Centenary Glasshouse commenced when Alan Titchmarsh cut the turf on which is stands, in 2005. The glasshouse covers .75 acre (3000m squared) and overlooks a huge glassy lake, created at the same time.
  • Wisley is the place to visit if you are wondering which variety of a particular plant to grow – you will see different, clearly labelled examples from which to choose. For example, there are 650 Aster plants across 20 cultivars – that doesn’t actually make choosing easy!
  • Wisley nurtures visitors as well as plants – with a choice of 8 restaurants, cafes, and quirky food vans / stalls throughout the grounds, different tastes and dining options are available for any time of the day.
  • No surprise that Wisley has an extremely comprehensive plant centre, with an extensively mind boggling selection of indoor and outdoor plants, tools and accessories. The gift shop is irresistable, too. That IS a fact.
Rock garden – with informal carp pond at its foot

Gertrude Jekyll, gardener

‘The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies, but grows to the enduring happiness that the love of gardening gives.’
Greylag Geese tidying the verges!

Gertrude Jekyll – gardener

A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.

Allan Armitage, professor of horticulture

Gardening simply does not allow one to be mentally old, because too many hopes and dreams are yet to be realized.
Take a day – or 2, and dive into Wisley

Albert Einstein:

Look deep into nature, and you will understand everything better.

Spring wildflowers amongst long grass: No Mow May!


Follow this link for Wisley’s website, and visiting information.

9 thoughts on “RHS Garden Wisley

  1. This is wonderful, Emma. Fabulous detail and photos. Aren’t those sculptures amazing! I used to pass Wisley on the A3 most weeks and only visited once, briefly, for business. But it’s one of those places I’ve never got round to spending time in. A visit has become even more of an imperative since starting the ABAB project, yet I still haven’t made it. So I particularly enjoyed your article!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, you must put aside a day for it!
      I look forward to a blog from you about Wisley one day… as you say, it is an imperative for the “A bit about Britain project”!

      Like

  2. I’ve never been to Wisley, but this was -almost – as good as a trip there! Thanks for sharing your visit with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for coming Margaret (virtually, anyway!)
      Nothing matches a visit to Wisley, but we are so lucky with such a number and range of wonderful, inspiring open gardens in the UK. Happy gardening!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! See you at Harlow Carr sometime!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Splendidly photographed and enticingly, informatively described, with most apt quotations.

    Like

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Location Horsham, West Sussex, UK Phone (+44)07930533916 E-mail theoakswestsussex@gmail.com Hours We will respond as soon as possible, and certainly within 24 hours.
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