August 27, 2011

A Visit to RHS Wisley (guest post by AJLR)


Last week, R and I met up with Southdowner at Wisley, the headquarters (in Surrey, southern England) of the Royal Horticultural Society. It’s always a pleasure going to Wisley and this was the second time that Southdowner had had the joy of being dragged round most of the 60 acres of the garden. I must say, she put up very well with me going ‘Ooh! lookit, lookit’ (a horticultural exclamation) at regular intervals. I tend to get a bit over-excited about plants…

We started by walking up to the glasshouse that was erected to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the RHS.  The interior is divided into a number of different climate zones. You can see more details about the glasshouse here.

A lot of people contributed to the funding of this glasshouse and it’s certainly an amazing structure.

We were particularly struck by the Aeoniums (the dark rosettes, on long stalks), here looking as if they’re escapees from something like the landscape of Mars.

In the dry area of the glasshouse

In another part of the dry area, some cacti were flowering beautifully. I love the shapes here.

Amazing shapes

When we walked through into the moist tropical area, the fern shown below had fronds (those stems are as wide around as my forearm)  unfurling that looked slightly uncanny.

This large fern looked almost sentient – not sure I’d want to be around it after nightfall.

Leaving the glasshouse, we started walking up through a very large area that has been planted up in the ‘prairie’ style made particularly notable over the last decade or so by Piet Oudolf. This style uses large masses of herbaceous perennials to create a colourful landscape that is moved by the wind. Echinaceas and Eryngiums, seen below, are two species that are often included.

Lovely colour and shape contrasts between the pink Echinacea and the silver Eryngium

By the time we’d admired the use of plants here and noted the wide variety of beneficial insects that had been attracted by them, we’d all decided that it was time for a little something. How fortuitous that this ethical eating place was to hand.

The sausages were lovely.

The sausage house is right next to the model (in the sense of being educational) fruit and vegetable  areas of the garden. I really enjoy growing such things and I love the sense of purposeful but decorative order that one gets in such ‘how to’ displays. Now if only I had their light soil, instead of my heavy clay (yes, I know mine doesn’t dry out as badly in hot summers but it’s a real b*st*rd at other times). The pear archway, below, is a pleasure to look at and very productive as well.

A structure that is both pleasing to the eye and useful.

Once I’d dragged myself away from the fruit and vegetables (Southdowner and R were both interested in these but I couldn’t see the gleam of fanaticism reflected in their eyes, so…) we wandered down to see a part of the garden now named the ‘Bowes-Lyon Rose Garden’ (of which there’s a short video, here). Strangely, to our eyes, there seemed very few roses here in comparison with the rest of the planting. We were not very impressed with it overall, but there were some interesting colour and shape contrasts among the herbaceous plants, if not the roses. Perhaps we were being too hard on it – that area has only just had the planting finished and been opened.

The colours here, below, are certainly vibrant in the summer sunshine.

That's a lot of plants!
I particularly liked the dark-leaved sedums, on the right, at the front, here – so the did the bees and butterflies.

We decided then to walk on over to the trials area of the garden, where the RHS invites submissions from commercial and other horticultural suppliers for the trials of particular species and varieties that evaluate how good a plant is. This is carried out over a number of years (often three) and the results are then made available  to everyone.

Results from the trials of plants, here, go out all over the world.

I particularly enjoyed the dahlias that formed part of one trial. Some of them had flowers that were so eye-searing in colour it wouldn’t have been kind to show them here. I liked this compact (about three feet high) variety though.

Love the name. Someone’s got a sense of humour.

By the time we’d had a good walk round the trials all three of us were beginning to feel the need of rest and shade. So we sauntered back up the hill and into the garden proper, where my husband fell into conversation with a gigantic Gunnera.

Man and Gunnera in close conversation

After Southdowner and I had separated these new friends we continued on down into the plant sales area, where I had to restrain myself, drastically, and then it was time to leave. It had been a lovely day, and we’d all really enjoyed ourselves.


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