RHS Garden - Wisley

Click on thumbnails to enlarge pictures or start slideshows!

Towards the end of June (2012) I had the pleasure of visiting the RHS gardens at Wisley, something I haven't managed to do for quite some time!

As I recall, work had just commenced on the building of the glasshouse the last time I was there and considering that the Glasshouse was opened in 2007 I guess I must have last visited the gardens in 2006!

In the six years that has elapsed since my last visit, a number of changes have taken place e.g

As has been previously mentioned, the New Glasshouse has been built.

More gardens have been added to the Witan Street project.

The old greenhouses have been removed.

Heron's Bonsai Walk has opened.

The Rose garden has been altered.

A new project is under way on the site of the old greenhouses.

A bird hide has been built on Howards field.

A Plants for Bugs garden has also been formed on Howard's Field.

Then there is the never ending cosmetic changes that take place from year to year throughout the gardens.

All in all, I was quite happy with the changes that have been made.

We arrived just after lunch on Friday 22nd June and our first port of call was the cafe to have a drink, and plan our route around the gardens.

I think it is essential to make a plan, if only to ensure that you see the must see areas during your visit!

I have applied that principle to this blog to ensure, you the reader, sees most if not all of the gardens.

I have highlighted a typical route* on the attached garden plan so that you the reader, can relate the articles in the blog with their position in the gardens!

The numbers in parenthesis (x) in the blog relate to those on the garden plan!

*Because I was on a two day visit, the route indicated is not in the sequence we actually took, but if I had been on a one day trip, I would have probably taken a route similar to that shown.

As the gardens are quite large and there is so much to take in, I have treated each area I visited as a chapter in the overall description (story) of the gardens.

The Grande Tour

Carpet Bedding

On entering the gardens we headed towards the Conifer Lawn skirting the Plant Centre.

From the top of the steps we found that the footpath was lined either side with flower beds filled with carpet bedding.

These beds had been themed to commemorate the Queens Diamond Jubilee and were entitled: Best of British.

The beds were designed and planted by three RHS trainees.

The theme took us back to Victorian times when parks and public gardens were adorned with symmetrical beds of carpet bedding.

Among the plants used were Pelargoniums, Euphorbia, Cordylyne and Lobelia.


Mixed Borders (2)

Heading on up the gardens we turned left at the island bed on to the Mixed Borders.

These borders are among the largest in the UK, with each border measuring 128 metres long and 6 metres deep.

The plantings consist of a mixture of perennial and annual plants, backed by a dense Hornbeam hedge.


AGM Borders and Jubilee Rose Garden (1)

Approximately half way up the borders we took a right turn into the AGM Borders and Jubilee Rose Garden.

As the name suggests most of the plants planted out here hold an Award of Garden Merit (AGM)

AGM Borders


Entrance into Borders


Water Feature



Euphorbia wallichii

Jubilee Rose Garden

This area has recently been renovated to commemorate the Queens Diamond Jubilee.

The beds were just brimming with rose of all shapes, sizes, and colour, not to mention the scents!

Rather than photograpgh the beds, I chose to photograph just a few of the blooms on display.

I hope you like the selection I have made in the attached slide show.


Battleston Hill

On exiting the Rose garden on to the mixed borders, we then proceeded up the twin borders till we come to Battleston Hill.

This involved quite a steep climb to its summit.

At the summit we were faced with a dramatic six metre tall statue by Henry Moore, named The Arch.

As with many of Moore's works his inspiration comes from the human body and its many parts.

In this case it is a fragment of bone made from fibreglass

The Hill is flanked with a variety of shrubs and trees some of which can be seen in the attached slideshow.

There are also a number of footways that take you into the Arboretum (Battleston Hill East)

These footways are graded for suitability for wheelchair users and walkers, and make for some interesting walks, particularly when the Azaleas and Rhodendrons are in bloom.


Trial grounds

The next port of call is the Trial grounds which can be approached either from the summit of Battleston Hill or from various paths out of the Arboretum as can be seen on the garden plan.

Each year nurseries and individuals can submit three plants of as many different cultivars as they wish, in the hope that all, or some of their cultivars will be awarded an Award of Garden Merit (AGM)

The plants are then grown on by RHS trainees, generally for up to three years, where they are judged periodically over this time by a commitee formed from relevant societies, e.g. The Delphinium Society and the RHS!

This year Rhubarb, Lettuce, Sweet Peas (Lathyrus) and Delphiniums were on trial.

I didn't take any pictures of the Rhubarb and Lettuce but I did take pictures of the Delphiniums and Sweet Peas that took my eye, as you can see in the attached slide show.


Weather Station & Fruit Mount

From this point one can choose to retrace their steps back to Battleston Hill or take a walk through the Fruit Field to get to Fruit Mount.

The Fruit Field includes a variety of fruits for example; gooseberries, strawberries, currants, cherries, pears and of course apples of which there are over 700 apple trees in the field.

At the top of the field you will find the RHS's very own Weather Station.

The recording equipment is fomed of several thermometers to measure minimum / maximum temperatures, and humidity.

Some of these are wired to automatic readers, others are read manually.

There are also numerous soil thermometers set to different depths.

The wooden structures (Stevenson Screens) house thermometers to measure the air temperature.

The reason for the painted wood is two fold; wood doesn't conduct heat, and the white paint reflects light.

Add to this a Sunshine Recorder set to allow maximum exposure to sunlight from sunrise to sunset, a Weather Vane to record wind direction, and the manual and automatic Rain Guages and this completes the set up.

Adjacent to the Weather Station is a large Fruit Tree nursery where young specimen trees are nurtured prior to planting out, and for selling in the Plant Centre(13)

Fruit Mount

This is a mound that has been formed at the highest point in the gardens to offer spectacular views of the surrounding area.

Access is achieved by ascending a spiral footpath to a viewing area at the top.

View over the Fruit Field

Fruit Tree nursery

Glasshouse Borders

Typical border planting

The Glasshouse borders are planted in a typical Piet Oudalf style to give all the year round interest.

At this stage of the tour one is faced with the choice of viewing the Glasshouse (16) or remaining outdoors and taking in other areas of the gardens!

We chose to have lunch at this point, and as the weather was still fine we decided to take in the rest of the garden and leave the greenhouse till later.


Rock Garden (9)

After lunch we visited the Rock Garden which like many other areas of the gardens it had also had a bit of a makeover since our last visit.

This is what we viewed:


Alpine Display Houses (7)

After climbing to the top of the Rock Garden, it was time to visit the Alpine Display Houses.

These were refurbished and opened in 1996, and were designed to display Alpines in as near a natural setting as is manually possible.

The structures were built to give maximum drainage facilities with the use of geo-textile membranes, gravel and perforated drainage pipes feeding into a sump below the rocks.

Ventilation is also key to good Alpine culture, and this is supplied two large fans which circulate the air and keep the houses cool, particularly during the summer, when the greenhouses can get quite warm!


Heron's Bonsai Walk

On leaving the Alpine house we came across another new feature since our last visit, and that was Heron's Bonsai Walk.

This work was installed circa 2006 under the direction of Mr Chan, a 21 time Chelsea gold winner, and the supplier of this wonderful Bonsai collection.

Bonsai translates from Chinese as: bon - pot and sai - tree giving the expression Potted Tree.

In Japanese the term tranlates as Tray Planting.

This method of growing originted in China around 2000 years ago and spread to Japan in the 7th century.


Heron's Bonsai Walk


Acer buergerianum


Pinus parviflora



Juniperus chinensis -







The Vegetable Garden (8)

As can be seen from the pictures the weather turned rather wet, so I was unable to take as many pictures as I would have liked !


The Vegetable Garden






Witan Street

From here we headed to Witan Street which is a development of eight gardens that demonstrate alternative approches to small urban gardens.

The project was started in 2004 where members of The Society of Garden Designers were invited to design the gardens.

There were 35 entries of which four commenced in 2004 and the remaining four were completed in 2008.

A Garden of Contrasts by Dizzy Shoemark

The contrasts are demonstrated by the use of stainless steel, polished granite, timber and gravel.

The strong geometric skeleton is softened by the mainly evergreen planting material.

The plant selection has been selected for its colour, structure, leaf shape and texture!

Development by Paul Dracott

A 21st century garden for a 21st century career couple!

They work hard, play hard, and believe their hard earned cash should allow them to lead life to the full!

Intersection by Catherine Heatherington

The curves running through the paving, reflects the shapes of the needles of the Pine tree backdrop.

The blocks of Yew and Box, reflect the geometric design of the garden, and contrasts well with the more informal drifts of plants, that flow around the static elements.

Our Garden by Andy Sturgeon

Simplicity is the key to this garden!

The bold rectangular interlocking shapes, and the animated movement of the water, merge well with the natural materials of Blue Limestone, Black Basalt and Oak boards.

Add to this the soft neutral colours and texture of the planting, and you have something that deserves to be called Our Garden!

Revolutions by Juliet Sargeant

The design is based on a Swinging Pendulum.

The arc represents the changing seasons.

The cycles of nature are reflected in the planting that changes with the seasons.

Rill Garden by Roger Webster

This garden is intended to be a sensual and social space, evocative of a warm climate!

The raised water channel, chute and pool is inspired by irrigated gardens in the Middle East.

The feathery planting, colour and fragrance plus the water, adds movement, sound and splarkle!

Wild in the City by Nicholas Dexter

This garden is is designed for relaxation and escapism from a busy modern world!

This is emphasied by the low maintenance that will be required to keep it tidy.

The space is defined by the strong geometry of the pond, and the bench.

Winding Down by Jill Fenwick

A garden designed for a young couple to unwind after work.

The black Ophiopogon nigrecens radiating out from the stone seat can have a calming effect.

If required favourite objects or sculptures can be displayed on the oak columns, and can be changed / moved regularly to alter the mood of the garden.


Model Gardens (4)

Once we had finished looking at these demonstration gardens, we moved on to have a look at a few more Model Gardens.

Some of these gardens, if not all, were erected circa 2001.

The only noticable change in this area since our previous visit, was the removal of the Bonsai garden,

This has now been moved to an area between the Alpine Houses (7) and the Vegetable Garden (8) and is now named Heron's Bonsai Walk (see details above)

The beauty of these gardens is that they are full of ideas that visitors can take away with them, and possibly construct them in their own gardens.


Bowles Corner.

We then headed for the Alpine Meadow (10) via Bowles Corner as seen here:

Alpine Meadow (10)

The Alpine Meadow (10) is situated between Bowles Corner and the Rock Garden (9)

As the name suggests it is a meadow and is planted accordingly with grasses and wild flowers.

At the lower edge there is a natural pond that has been planted up with poolside plants and water lilies.


Poolside Plants

Iris ensata

Hue and Cry

Iris ensata

Katy Mendez




We then headed along the side of the Conifer Lawn towards the Walled Garden (11) and Canal / Loggia (12) area.

AGM Borders & Conifer Lawn

On entering the walled garden we found that the West garden was under re-development!

It would seem that the previous planting scheme had suffered over the past few winters, apparently brought about by the fact that the walls themselves had created a Frost Pocket.

The new theme will be Foliage Plants with plants such as Hostas and Ferns taking the place of the more exotic plants that were in previously!

The West Garden

The East Garden looked pretty much the same as it had been on our previous visit.

The East Garden

The Loggia, Canal and Laboratory Bulding

Moving on out of the East Garden we entered the Loggia (12) with its view up the Canal to the Laboratory building (15)


The Canal


The Fountain


The Laboratory Building


Looking towards The Loggia




Looking towards The Loggia

We were lucky to see a young Heron on the lawn basking in the sunshine.

I suppose it could be said that RHS Wisley is not only about plant breeding when you witness sights like this!



John Wedgwood



Seven Acres

After a cup of coffee in the cafe we headed out to Seven Acres to have a look at the Birds of Prey demonstration that was taking place that day.

This was followed by a pleasant walk around the lake to watch the children feeding the ducks and the fish.


The Lake


View across the Lake


The Pagoda




Feeding Time


The Glasshouse (16)


This is the part of the gardens that had inspired me to make this visit, as the last time I visited this area was a building site!

Seeing the transformation was absolutely marvellous.



The Before



and After

Apparently this structure covers an area equal in size to 10 tennis courts and rises to 12m (40ft) in height.

It has three climatic zones: Tropical, Moist temperate and Dry temperate.

The Glasshouse contains more than 5000 rare, endangered and difficult to grow species including hundreds of orchids.

There are also areas designated for Educational activities.

The Glasshouse boasts the UK's first root zone - an interactive area where you can learn about roots and the vital role they play,.....sadly I missed seeing this.

TheTropical Zone.

As would be expected this part of the glasshouse was quite humid which gave it that tropical feel.

The planting was superb with many tropical flowers and plants on display.

There was even a pond complete with its very own Hippopotamus.

Moist Temperate Zone.

This area, although referred to as a 'moist' temperate zone, was not quite as humid as the tropical zone

Again there was an abundance of tropical plants to see plus a waterfall.

Dry Temperate Zone.

This area did indeed look quite dry and desert like.

The sand floor covering representing a desert was very effective and the planting of various cactii and succulents added to the effect.


Teaching Area.

The Teaching Garden was designed to encourage school groups and families including the parents, to get into gardening!

It is split into seven areas namely:

Compost Area, which demonstrates how to recycle and reuse garden materials.

Earth Wall, the garden wall is formed of soil mixed with cement that was placed in formwork to make the wall.

Drought Tolerant Plants, this contains plants that are adapted to growing in dry areas.

Hornbeam Hideaway, an enclosed shady area where the pupils can sit and discuss gardening procedures.

Pond Area, the pond has been planted with plants adapted to growing in wet areas, and to attract all forms of wildlife into the garden.

Fruit & Vegetables, this area is formed of raised and standard ground level beds, to demonstrate various ways of growing fruit and vegetables.

Wildlife Area, this is a shaded area consisting of Log Piles, a Wormery, and an Insect Hotel.


Howard's Field.

The walk onto Howards Field took us through the Pinetum, onto the Heather beds, past the Plants for Bugs site, and finally to the Bird Hide.

The Pinetum holds many examples of Pine trees as can be seen here:


Chamaecyparis lawsoniana-



Chamaecyparis obtusa-Aurea Conspicua


Pinus contorta

The National Heather collection:

Due to the favourable growing conditions there has been heathers here for over ninety years.

The area come into its own in 1987 when it was given National Plant Collection status.

The collection now has more than 1,000 cultivars, from around 25 species.

The entire collection is catalogued in the RHS Horticultural Database.

Each year new cultivars are added, coming from places such as Europe and North America.

Add to that, the links with the Heather Society and nurseries who regulary exchange plants with the RHS.

The Plants for Bugs garden.

This garden opened in May 2009 along with a sister garden in Wisley Village.

The project is planned to last for three years and its purpose is to compare the effect of native and non-native plants on wildlife, in particular insects(bugs)

The garden designed to represent a small garden, and consist of eighteen three metre square beds containing plants from three geographical zones, namely: Native, Near Native and Exotica.

Regular inspections are made and details of bugs found are recorded.

Recent results indicate that there has been very little slug activity, lots of ground beetles and flying insects, including the Painted Lady Butterfly and honey bees from nearby apiaries.

On completion of the experiment the results will be published.

The Bird Hide: (17)

The wildlife facility opened in November 2010 and these are the views right and left of the viewing windows.

Shop and Plant Centre

A visit to a public garden, would not be complete without a visit to the Shop and Plant Centre and there were a number of the plants that caught my eye, not least the Phaleanopsis.

There were a number of other plants that I put on my wish list as you can see in the attached slide show.

To conclude:

I would like to say that I really enjoyed my trip around the gardens its just a pity that they were not a lot closer to home.

If they were I am quite sure I would visit them more often, but sadly I find that the 400 mile round trip which necessitates staying in a hotel for a couple of nights, add to this the fuel costs, and you have the makings of a rather expensive day out.

I also find that the other RHS gardens are rather far away for day trips! When you consider that Rosemoor is a round trip of 600miles, and Hyde Hall a 450 mile round trip.

The exception is the gardens at Harlow Carr which are much closer to me and only involve a round trip of around 80 miles.

I am led to believe that the RHS are aware of the need for another garden and are currently looking for a garden in the Midlands /North West of England to cater for the needs of it more northern members.

It is my sincere wish that this happens sooner rather than later so that I can visit another RHS garden that is of a similar quality to the four existing gardens.

Finally, I would just like to say to all the readers of this blog, that I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour as much as I enjoyed the real thing..

................and that concludes my trip to: RHS Gardens Wisley.

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