The Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley may never be the same!

The Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley

By Peter Foy

In this COVID cursed world, many of us are getting used to the staycation. European travel is too risky. Forget the sun, forget the sangria forget the intimacy of Mediterranean beaches. Some of us are going to stay-at-home.

For me, it was a drive down to Surrey to visit my favourite garden and meet some old friends. It’s the garden experience I want to share. The first day of my staycation gave me a half day’s visit to the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley. That was Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday morning, I had another half-day visit; that’s how much I enjoy Wisley!

    It is more than a garden. It is more than a tourist experience. It is part of our cultural heritage; it must be protected.  

I have been visiting this joyful place for over 30 years. I’ve seen it evolve and grow, marveling at how it balances the need to satisfy consumers with its obligation to further horticultural science. A living museum.

No disrespect to the curators of botanical gardens up and down the land but none of them have come close to achieving what Wisley has.

Walking around the gardens, I realised that, as well as being a showcase for plants, it is, in a very real sense, an art gallery. More than that, it is a heritage site.

Visiting at the time I did, I saw the hydrangea in their full magnificence; especially the paniculate hydrangea. Equally, the exotic garden was simply awe-inspiring. And the heathers, Calluna, Daboecia and Erica were beautiful. Everywhere, the trees were stupendous. Eucalyptus, Sequoia, and Oak; to name but 3 kings amid a thousand heroes.

In short, as a garden, it was perfect.

It’s status as a heritage site, more than justified by its planting, comes, to my mind, from the way it embraces so much of our culture.

Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at WisleyMy fellow visitors reflected the mix of the society we live in. A complete pallet of ethnicities. In the different nooks and crannies, so cleverly incorporated into the design of the gardens, were groups doing their thing. Two monks saying the rosary. Three generations of a family sharing a picnic. Numerous would-be artists, with a board on an easel, painting the beauty that is Wisley. Children skipping and dancing and having fun. Gardeners standing in awe of what their professional counterparts have created. Academics, seeking examples of plants no longer readily available.

Wisley, a garden, and so much more.

Walking through this cathedral to creation, from Battleston Hill, down along the ponds, into the pinetum and back to the formal beds, I became aware that this little piece of Surrey was also a sculpture park.

Sometimes witty comments, sometimes abstract statements, sometimes echoes of an art deco age, sometimes inspiring, sometimes weird. Always beautiful. Always challenging. Always surprising. Moving through the Pinetum and seeing a face of rusted steel emerge from the shadows of the trees is to experience installation art. To help a mother corral her children into a pushchair and then look up and realise you’re in the shadow of the totemic sculpture; a pine tree carved to represent two pinecones with a squirrel at their base, is to find humour in art. And the art in question is gardening.

The Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at WisleyWisley is more than the national collection of various plants. It is more than a centre of training for tomorrow’s horticulturalists. It is more than a garden. It is more than a tourist experience. It is part of our cultural heritage; it must be protected.

As a society we need to design a post-COVID world, where we revisit how we move our society forward, Wisley will be important.

It seems an age ago when a young Scandinavian girl, Greta Thunberg, was on the cover of Time and in everyone’s conscience. Yet those environmental issues, personified by Greta, are still with us today. We need to resolve them today.

It was heart-breaking to discover that plans are in place to vandalise Wisley. Sitting as it does at the junction of the A3 and M25, the garden has always straddled the polluting world of the 21st-century and the serene world of horticulture.

The government is proposing a new junction between motorway and trunk road, a junction that will destroy part of Wisley. Once destroyed it can never be restored. The scientists, and shouldn’t we all follow the science, have proposed an alternative. But the government is resolute.

Just Recruitment has never used its website to support a political campaign. We do now ask you to visit the RHS site and decide if you can sign their petition. We don’t believe it’s political, we believe it’s cultural. We hope that you will help.


Published: 15 September 2020

© 2020 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

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