Tuesday 26 May 2009

RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey

The spiritual home of posh English gardening, Wisley is an impressive showcase for the formidable skills and knowledge of the Royal Horticultural Society. In May, the green-fingered will hardly notice the fine imitation Tudor manor house that serves as a laboratory and the gateway to the 240 acre site. Instead, they will be transfixed by the extraordinary variety of plants and flowers that pack borders carefully-designed to provide a mesmerising mixture of colour, foliage and structure. Melded into the contours of the Surrey Hills, the gardens flow up banks, past ponds capped with water lilies and straddled by quaint bridges, around an undulating Alpine meadow, charming stone steps, rockeries and venerable old trees. To the south, Battleston Hill and Weather Hill, where the lauded rose gardens are now being redeveloped, both make for good vantage points for a sweeping view of the extraordinary array of landscaping and planting below. Urbanites in search of ideas should wander around the self-contained series of small gardens each designed around a theme, such as "rooms" or "pot plants".

Spectacular, high-tech glasshouse
Right now there is also a cheerful display of tiny themed gardens, just a few square feet, designed by local schools. One of them features characters from children's stories, such as Robin Hood and Peter Rabbit, while another is full of lavishly-painted pebbles. The fruit field and the arboretum in the south west corner are among the least colourful, but most peaceful, parts of Wisley. From here, you can follow the spiral path up to the top of the newly-planted fruit mount or head down the straight grassy path to the semi-circular lake in front of the spectacular, high-tech glasshouse. Inside are tropical, temperate and desert zones, each densely-packed with strange and eye catching plants. Steps, ramps and lifts enable you to get up amongst the treetops and survey everything from on-high. Entrance to Wisley costs £8.50 for adults, a fair price, but you will probably spend as much again in one of the several cafes and restaurants dotted around the site. And if you want a souvenir, there is also a pricey gift shop and plant centre. 8/10