To build, to plant, whatever you intend,
To rear the column, of the arch to bend,
To swell the terrace, or to sink the grot,
In all let nature never be forgot.
Consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
Or helps th’ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks, or now directs, th’intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Wisley gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society (R.H.S) in Surrey have become a ‘mecca’ for garden-lovers everywhere.
In 1878 George Ferguson Wilson, businessman, scientist, inventor and keen gardener, purchased the site and established ‘The Oakwood Experimental Garden’ with the idea of growing difficult plants successfully. Soon the garden was renowned for its collection of lilies, gentians, Japanese irises, primulas and water plants. Despite changes since then, it is still true to his original concept.
In 1903 on the death of Mr Wilson, Sir Thomas Hanbury bought the estate and presented it in trust to the R.H.S. With his eminent botanist brother Daniel, he was the founder in 1867 of the celebrated hillside garden of La Mortola, on the Italian Riviera (with which the R.H.S. remains closely concerned).
Wisley is a very beautiful garden with romantic half-timbered Tudor-style buildings. The soil is mainly acid sand which is poor in nutrients and fast draining. There is a canal designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, a rock garden, formal and walled gardens by Lanning Roper, a country garden by Penelope Hobhouse and long borders by Peit Oudolf. Then there are long herbaceous borders, the alpine gardens, the model gardens, soft fruit garden, rose-garden, summer garden, winter garden and woodland garden, a fruit field, glasshouses and an arboretum.
Any gardening speciality or interest can be met at Wisley. One area is given to various styles of model gardens. Trial areas of collections of cultivars are shown to compare, assess, or simply to admire. Laboratories research pests, diseases and general garden problems. Wisley’s purpose is to ‘use and occupy the Estate for the purpose of an Experimental Garden and the Encouragement and Improvement of Scientific and Practical Horticulture in all its Branches’.
Wisley garden holds National Collections of Crocus, Colchicum, Daboecia, Epimedium, Erica, Daphne, Galanthus, Hosta and Pulmonaria.
Wisley also houses a huge shop containing the largest selection of new gardening books in Britain (and quite probably the world).