Travelogue: RHS Garden Wisley

The house at Wisley seen from the far gardens.

Good morning campers! Did you think the travelogue was over? Ah, no, it is not. We have many more places to go and things to see. Click on the galleries below to see the photos in a larger format.

Today’s garden destination is RHS Garden Wisley in Woking, Surrey, GU23 6QB, given to the Royal Horticultural Society in 1903 by Sir Thomas Hanbury. However, George Fergusson Wilson was the real spirit and driving force of the garden. Sir Hanbury bought the property after Wilson’s death. It seems he was into saving gardens as he bought others too. In Wisley, Wilson created the oldest section, called the ‘Oakwood experimental garden,’ in 1878. He was set upon growing difficult plants. I laughed when I read this description because all gardeners seem to be about growing difficult plants. Wisley has quite the pedigree as do most places in England. You can’t go anywhere in Great Britain that you don’t stumble over history. If the U.S. were as old, maybe we would see the same. We do have great arboretums and historic botanical gardens–Longwood Gardens, among others, comes to mind–but most aren’t as old as those in England. We just don’t have as long a history from which to draw.

I suppose as history goes, Wisley is rather a young English garden. It’s also HUGE and covers 240 acres. In some ways, it reminds me of all public gardens I’ve visited. It’s full of plant collections, has large greenhouses–which I love–long walks, espaliered fruit trees, a rose garden, splendid views, and so on. I found it a bit overwhelming. I tend to like more personal spaces, but it was very beautiful. After Bill and I walked around most of the garden, we decided to go have tea. We had tea in nearly every garden we visited. I should do a whole post on tea. I wish American gardens less processed food like their English counterparts. The English are especially good at sweets. Every garden and pub I visited in England had something gluten free for me to eat. Everything had dairy, but I was able to eat dairy there with no problems. I don’t know why, but I have my suspicions. Food in the gardens is considered expensive so if you’re on a budget, you may want to pack a lunch. We did bring some lunch, but later had cream tea. Such a lovely thing, cream tea.

This was actually a cream tea at Harrod's, but it will give you an idea. When you've walked a large garden all day, you need a yummy respite.
This was actually a cream tea at Harrod’s, but it will give you an idea. When you’ve walked a large garden all day, you need a yummy respite. Of course, Harrod’s tea is served on Wedgwood China. And, yes, that’s a gluten free scone.

What I’d give for a delicious gluten free scone and clotted cream right now.

I’m shaking my head to bring myself back to reality. Okay, back to the gardens. If you’d like to learn more about the history of the Wisley, just clickety click the link.

Of course, you know we stopped in the temperate house while we were there. They were in the midst of a pelargonium (often called geranium here, but actually a cousin) show, and had lots of lovely varieties. I liked ‘Rimfire.’ Check out that color. No, it probably wouldn’t like Oklahoma’s hot, sunny days. I thought the planters were shaped so nicely too. Also, they were on castors so they could be rolled in and out of the space. Smart. When I travel to botanical gardens, I always hit the temperate house and avoid the warmer greenhouses. It’s hot enough here at home, and I’m not into desert plants, or even tropical ones indoors. I can grow so many tropicals outside here.

If you liked this travelogue, I have more! You can also travel with me to Sissinghurst Castle and Hever Castle. I’m determined to take you on my entire English and French trip. That way, we’ll both remember the details before I get too fuzzy on them.

One more thing, before I let you go, here is a wonderful video from the RHS showing Wisley in all its glory from the sky. It’s worth watching. You’ll get a real sense of the gardens that I’ve shown you in photos.


Travelogue: Sissinghurst Castle

Sissinghurst as seen from the top of the tower.

For those of you who don’t know, Bill and I took a little trip to LONDON and PARIS!! Can you see me dancing a happy dance? To use another worn metaphor I’m still dancing on air.

A vignette in an old concrete planter. There were two of these along this wall.
A vignette in an old concrete planter. There were two of these along this wall.

Sitting here, a cup of tea at hand, and trolling through my photos, I’m still pinching myself at how fortunate I was to go. It took 53 years, but I walked in merry old England.

Hop houses at Sissinghurst.
Hop houses at Sissinghurst. We were in hops-growing country. Beer is an important commodity in England although grapes are starting to get a foothold too with the warmer weather.

My next several posts will be a travelogue, and I’m starting with my favorite place, Sissinghurst Castle. I was going to build up to Sissinghurst, but then, I thought, nah.

Famous blue gate at Sissinghurst.
Famous blue gate at Sissinghurst.

If you’re a watcher of the BBC’s Gardeners’ World, you know that the head gardener at Sissinghurst, Troy Scott Smith, is making some changes to bring Sissinghurst back to Vita Sackville-West’s and Sir Harold George Nicolson’s original plan. If you love British gardening, and you don’t watch Gardeners’ World, you’re truly missing out. We’re lucky that in the States we now get the current episodes on Youtube.

Some of the garden beds at Sissinghurst Castle.
Some of the garden beds at Sissinghurst Castle.

I can’t fully express my feelings about Sissinghurst. My heart is too full. When I went into the tower–where you can’t take pictures–I was quite overcome at Vita’s writing studio, and her elderly voice reciting her poem, Sissinghurst, brought me to tears. Here’s her reading of The Land, another long poem.

The azalea walk Sissinghurst was stunning in the spring sunlight.
The azalea walk Sissinghurst was stunning in the spring sunlight.

I understand pouring your entire being into a space, loving it and knowing you can’t forever live there. A bit of background–Vita’s ancestral home, Knole, was lost because there was no male heir to carry on. Later, she and Harold bought Sissinghurst which was in terrible condition and transformed it piece by piece, pound by pound. In a fashion, their ingenuity and perseverance reminds me of the American settlers who often came to this country after losing everything in their homeland. Grit, determination and hard work can take you a long way. I know it did for my family.

For example, the owners called the famous white garden the “white, grey and green garden.” Volunteers said it was at its peak while we were here. Harold was a practical thinker. He laid out the hedges and kept Vita’s creative chaos in control. He’s not often given credit in the U.S. for his important contributions, but he and Vita worked together to make Sissinghurst what it was and is. Not that Bill and I as good as Vita and Harold, but their partnership in the garden reminded me of ours. Bill builds structures and comes up with plans. I am in charge of choosing and growing the plants. He doesn’t really offer any input there, but cheers my efforts. Sometimes, Bill also pushes me to try new things. The pond is a good example and after eight months, I am finally embracing it. I love the goldfish flitting about in the mornings. It’s good to have a partner in the garden who loves it as much you, but also lets you express yourself fully. I think Harold says it well below.

From Harold to Vita.
From Harold to Vita.

Their marriage and love affair was far more complicated than mine with Bill–thank God–we’re boring and monogamous–but they did love each other and their garden is an expression of their drive and love.

Harold said his lime walk was his life's work.
Harold said his lime walk was his life’s work.

Above is the lime walk designed by Harold and being brought back to his vision by present gardeners. Sometimes gardens do go on.

If you’d like to read other views of Sissinghurst, here are two from my friends, Fairegarden and Gail. By the way, I’m being over familiar using Vita and Harold’s first names. I hope they forgive me. I feel like we’re practically on a first-name basis.

I’ll be back soon with another garden we visited. I hope I don’t bore you.