top of page

RHS Wisley

Even at the end of September, the gardens at RHS Wisley still have plenty of colour and points of interest.

We joined a 90 minute guided tour which left from the entrance gates at 1pm. This gave us an excellent introduction to the garden, taking in the smaller garden areas with a number of highlights en route. Here are some of my favourite parts.

The Laboratory

This pretty Grade II Arts and Crafts style building looks like an old manor house, but was actually built between 1914 and 1916 as a laboratory. For decades it served as a research and training centre, but now its facilities are becoming dated and students and scientists are moving to the new National Centre for Horticultural Science and Learning. The new centre is currently due to open in 2020.

This is good news not only for the students and researchers but also to visitors to Wisley, because from 2021 the building will be opened to the public for the first time in 100 years, with a new exhibition space and access to the laboratories. A new shop and entrance are also being created, with the result that the old shop - which obscures the laboratory from one side - will be demolished, providing improved views of the building.

The Glasshouse

Opened to celebrate the bicentenary of the Royal Horticultural Society in 2007, the Glasshouse rises to over 12 metres in height and covers a display area equivalent to 10 tennis courts. It consists mainly of 11,000sq m of curved sheets of tempered glass, weighing 110 tonnes, with angles and pane sizes designed to make the most of the available sunlight. Supplementary heating from a gas boiler ensures a minimum temperature of 10C in the temperate zones and 20C in the tropical zone. Thermal shading screens unfurl automatically to retain heat at night and prevent scorching on hot days, while a misting system maintains humidity at 65 per cent.

The Glasshouse is divided into three climatic zones: Temperate, Arid and Tropical, which are home to around 6,000 plant accessions. In the moist temperate zone a waterfall creates a moist, cloud-forest atmosphere and plants such as ferns and thrive beneath ustralasian tree ferns, South American climbers, pitcher plants from North American bogs, South African lilies and Asian gingers. At the opposite end of the glasshouse is the arid temperate zone housing cacti, succulents and other drought-resistant plants from around the world. Adjacent to these two sections, the tropical zone is a hot and steamy area housing lush planting includes bananas, bromeliads, palm trees and fast-growing climbers, as well as familiar houseplants growing to their natural sizes, such as the Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa) and giant maidenhair fern (Adiantum trapeziforme); it also has a raised viewing area which enables you to get a tree-top view of the zone.

Art in the gardens

Unfortunately we arrived the day after the Surrey Sculpture Society Trail for 2018 came to an end, but there are a few permanent sculptures in the gardens as well as a few of the trail sculptures which had not yet been removed.

The sculptures shown below (clockwise from top left) are:

- Unknown (if anyone knows the details of this sculpture let me know and I'll add them to this post)

- Equilibrium II by Michael Speller

- Dandelion Sculpture by Amy Stoneystreet and Robin Wright of Fantasy Wire Limited

- Diva by Mark Swan

Indian Bean Tree

Sited in the Bowes-Lyon rose garden, this tree was planted in the 1950s. Officially named Catalpa bignonioides it actually comes from the USA and is named after the Catawba people who were indigenous to the area in which it was discovered.

In June - July the tree is covered with orchid-like white flowers with purple speckles and orange centres. When we visited these were no longer in evidence, but we did see the long bean-like pods from this the tree gains its common name; these contain seeds, not edible beans! The tree is also prized for its large, bright green floppy leaves up to 25cm long and 15cm wide which appear in the Spring and can be so heavy that they actually cause branches to snap. The tree is deciduous but the pods may stay attached to the tree well into the Winter.

Despite its exotic appearance Catalpa bigonoides grows well in the UK, although it will take time (20-50 years) to reach its ultimate size of 15x15 metres. In smaller gardens the trees can be pollarded, or look a smaller variety such as the 3.7m-high 'Nana'.


These are primarily found in the Bowes-Lyon rose garden, built to Sir David Bowes-Lyon (RHS President 1953–61). I was particular taken with the lovely yellow Rosa [Molineux] Ausmol shown below, alongside a dog-rose which was covered in rosy-red hips and a few late flowers which were so popular with bees that two were occupying a single bloom.

Flower-free Beauty

Many of the shrubs and trees at Wisley look stunning in their own right:

Other Photographs

I took so many photos that I can't write about them all in detail, but here are some of my favourites:


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page