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Winter Sweet (copyright Ian Curley)

The last time I visited a garden was back in September, so feeling a little deprived of new inspiration coupled with a touch of cabin fever and frankly just needing a change of scene, we decided to visit RHS Wisley, in Surrey. Unfortunately, the combination of good weather, half term and some children’s events meant that we weren’t the only ones with that idea. To say it was busy was understatement, heaving more like.

The RHS has 3 other gardens in North Yorkshire, Essex and Devon but Wisley is the largest and it’s flagship garden. Covering 240 acres it combines being a training establishment for it’s students and it’s educational role informing the public about horticulture with providing a day out in beautiful surroundings. We used to live close by so have been lucky enough to see the gardens throughout the seasons. High summer is in my opinion the best time to visit but there is still plenty to see even in winter.

Intoxicating Scent of Daphne (copyright Ian Curley)

Winter scent is easy to find at Wisley with Daphnes, winter-flowering Honeysuckle and the incredible Chimonanthes or winter sweet.

Witch hazel (copyright Ian Curley)

There were some beautiful specimens of witch hazel with it’s lemon peel-like flowers. The overnight frost had not had too much of impact on the carpets of crocus and snowdrops and there were hellebores scattered all over the gardens.

Alpine house at Wisley (copyright Ian Curley)

A great treat at this time of year is the Alpine House which was bursting with colour. A stunning collection of Hepaticas, Crocus and Narcissi were all in bloom protected from the elements. Later in the year the green tussocks of Saxifrages will be covered in tiny little flowers.

Glasshouse at Wisley (copyright Ian Curley)

One of main reasons for our visit was to see the glasshouse which was opened in 2007. We had seen the construction work going on but had moved away from the area before it was completed and opened. The structure is very impressive especially with the lake in front of it, providing beautiful reflections. It covers an area of 10 tennis courts and has different climates – dry temperate, moist temperate and tropical. As part of the half term activities was a ‘Come and See Butterflies’ event in the glasshouse which was proving incredibly popular with families, so popular there were long queues. We weren’t so bothered about seeing the butterflies and were more interested in the plants, so thinking we could bypass the 40 minute queue to see the butterflies, we left the queue to have a look at the plants only to realise half way round that you could only see the rest of the glasshouse if you were in the queue for the butterflies. We didn’t have the time or stamina to queue again. What we saw was good and I particularly liked the display about roots but it was quite frustrating not to get to see the rest of the glasshouse especially as we seemed to be the only people interested in seeing the plants.

Inside the glasshouse

The plant centre is amazing and could do serious damage to your bank account. The nursery has a wide selection of herbs, shrubs, trees, alpines, herbaceous plants and fruit bushes and trees. It is horticultural heaven. The staff, as you would expect, have a wealth of knowledge and are very helpful. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, I was so tired after 4 hours of walking around I didn’t have enough energy for the shop. I was very tempted by the trained fruit trees but all I could manage was a pot of blue wood anemone. If you really want to do the plant centre justice I suggest you start here first. It has the added advantage that you don’t have to pay to get into the plant centre so if you didn’t have time to visit the gardens you could just pop into the shop.

I can highly recommend Wisley and realise how lucky we were to live so close by. The gardens cover such a large area that even on a very busy day you can find quiet spots. Visitor facilities are good with a selection of places to eat. It is always worth checking what events are on, they offer a full programmes throughout the year ranging from courses and talks for adults to childrens craft making days.

For more information visit the RHS website

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