It doesn't matter where you go at Wisley, or what time of year you visit, because there'll always be something to see at the Royal Horticultural Society's (RHS) 240-acre flagship garden. The RHS originally had its headquarters in London, but moved here when Sir Thomas Hanbury of La Mortola fame, gifted the site to them in 1903. Students come here from all over the world to study horticulture both as professionals and amateurs and visitors number around 750,000 per year.
Wisley has something for everyone. At the entrance there are formal canal gardens in front of the main house laid out by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe and Lanning Roper in the 1960s, which include two walled gardens. Beyond this there's a Wild Garden and an area known as Seven Acres, where the planting focuses on the four seasons - it's here that you will see thousands of daffodils in spring and glorious colours in autumn.
Borders are a major feature at Wisley and you'll see every kind of perennial as you climb the hill between the splendid double borders (originally designed by Piet Oudolf) that lead to the trial test bed area featuring both ornamental and edible plants; but equally impressive are the Glasshouse Borders (above), and the Monocot Borders (below), which you can view on the way to the model gardens, which will give aspiring gardeners much to think about as they wander through the selection of "rooms" that are roughly the same size as English townhouse gardens.
The Rock and Alpine Meadow Garden was the first area to be developed after the RHS received Wisley as a gift and there is always something to see here, whatever the season. It was originally designed by Edward White in 1911, but as the Millennium approached, rock gardens were decidedly unfashionable and renovation work carried out in 2004 included the addition of a new Japanese-style landscape, complete with waterfall. Today this part of the garden sits in perfect harmony with the rest of Wisley notwithstanding changes in horticultural fashion.
The latest addition to the garden is the giant Glasshouse, designed and built to coincide with the bicentenary of the RHS and opened by the the Queen in June 2007. It covers an area the size of ten tennis courts, and houses three climatic zones - from tropical jungle to arid desert - and provides a dramatic backdrop to year-round plant displays that include more than 5,000 cultivated plants including orchids, cacti and glossy tree ferns. But it's the annual Butterfly Exhibition that really brings this cathedral-like structure to life - delighting all ages! It runs from 12 January - 24 February in 2013.
RHS Wisley is open every day of the year except Christmas Day, from 10.00-18.00 in summer and 10.00-16.30 in winter (9.00 opening at weekends). Entrance is £10.50 for adults and £4.50 for children (give ages), but free to RHS members. Well worth considering an annual membership if you live near any of the RHS gardens in the UK - in Devon, Essex, Surrey or Yorkshire, because membership, costing just £38.25 covers all four gardens and you'll also receive the RHS magazine - "The Garden" - every month, as well as free entry to other RHS designated gardens around the country.
|The glasshouse borders at RHS Wisley in late October|
|Late-autumn colour at RHS Wisley on a chilly October day|
|The Monocot Borders at Wisley|
|The annual Butterfly Exhibition runs from 12 January - 24 February 2013|
|Spring flowers at RHS Wisley|