Behind the scenes at the RHS

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I had a wonderful day yesterday at RHS Wisley and to add to my enjoyment the sun shone which came as a welcome change to the recent cool and damp weather we have had.

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It is strange how I have ended up visiting this garden twice already this year when I had only ever been once before.  My favourite part of the garden was The Walled Garden it is planted up with ferns, hostas and other interesting foliage plants.  I love the textures in this space.

2014_06060009However I was there for a meeting with the RHS staff in charge of the AGM Plant trials.  It is strange how things have a way of coming together.  I have been interested in getting involved in plant trials for some time and applied a few years ago but to no avail. Earlier this year my friend, Helen Picton of Old Court Nurseries, told me that they had agreed to host an offsite trial of Aster novae-angliae for the RHS and would I be interested in being on the Committee. Fantastic! Then Robin Pearce a local nurseryman who is on the Herbaceous Plant Committee and behind the trial happening in the first place contacted me to see if I would be the Recording Secretary for the trial.  Apparently the RHS are beginning to consider having 2014_06060016more offsite trials – there is a Thalictrum one at Aberglasney and Nerine in Shropshire – but this is quite time-consuming for RHS staff causing them to be out of the office quite a bit.  Robin had suggested to the RHS that they consider having an offsite recorder who would then feed the results back to the RHS Trial Staff.  Amazingly, they have agreed although I think they are a little nervous about it!

Robin and I went to RHS Wisley to discuss the whole process and what I would be required to do and to convince them that this was possible.  I suspect me telling Mark  Heath that I have no horticultural training hasn’t inspired confidence!  We went through the whole process step by step and what information them needed from me and why.  They showed us the Bgbase database which is used internationally.  Each plant species and cultivar is recorded, the information is crossed reference with by the Botanical staff who check names etc are correct.  Then this information feeds into the Plant Search database we can access from the RHS website and also provides information for the RHS Plantfinder.

RHS Wisley trial fields

RHS Wisley trial fields

The plants we will be including in the trial are from two national collections both residing in the Malvern area along with some other additions again from Midlands nurseries.  We will be putting out a call for other entries.  Our next step is to agree the cultivar list and for all the plants to be delivered to the nursery so Helen can quarantine them until planting next spring.  Then during the flowering period (September – October) we will meet three times to assess the plants and we will do this for three years before agreeing on AGM recommendations to put forward to the Herbaceous Plant Committee.

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This will involve me attending and minuting four meetings each year and sending the notes etc to Sue in the Trails office for her to record on the database.  Thankfully they aren’t going to ask me to enter the information direct into the database.

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I think it is going to be fascinating and a good learning experience for me.  After lunch we had the afternoon to explore the gardens.  We had a look at the trial field so I could see how this was done and things we needed to pass back to Helen at the nursery when she is laying out the planting.   I then went for an explore and discovered a lovely woodland area that I hadn’t visited before which was delightful especially as it had got quite warm by this point.

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We left at 3pm having perused the plant sales (and yes bought a few things) unfortunately being a Friday we were stuck on the motorway for some time and it took 4 hours to do a journey which had taken 2 hours in the morning.  However, I had a wonderful day.  I learnt lots and it was fascinating to see behind the scenes at the RHS.

I have checked and I am allowed to report on the trials, in fact I have been encouraged to, aside from the voting and AGM recommendations.  So next year you will probably get tired of me wittering on about asters.

A February outing to RHS Wisley

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Yesterday, the gods smiled, the sun shone and I finally got to spend a day at RHS Wisley Garden.  I have wanted to visit properly for a while but it’s around a 3 hour drive each way and the journey skirts the edge of London.  As I am rapidly becoming a country hillbilly the thought of all that traffic has been too much for me and I have repeatedly dismissed the idea of a visit.  However, this year I decided that I needed to get over it and go.  Luckily a conversation with my friend Victoria provided the answer.  Victoria moved from London some 18 months ago and missed her regular visits to Wisley.  She lives just under halfway between me and the garden so yesterday I got up early drove to hers and then she drive the rest of the way.

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I’m not sure why I was so keen to visit this year but I particularly wanted to see the Alpine House and rock garden and spring is a good time due to all the spring bulbs.  I was also interested to see the new Henry Moore statue, the King and Queen, that is temporarily residing at the top of the lily pool by the entrance. I have seen quite a few photos of the statue on twitter from the back with the pool in the background so I was pleased to see the statue from the front.  I think it is rather wonderful and reminds me of medieval images almost Spanish in its appearance.

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The weather was amazing and having left early leaving behind rain we were somewhat overdressed but never mind it was a nice problem to have. I was amazed at how busy the garden was on a Monday morning but I suppose everyone is keen to get out into the sunshine and there were lots of small children with their mothers, nannies and grandparents.

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First up was the Alpine House and all the dinky pots of bulbs.  I was interested to see how they were presented in the sand beds.  How wonderful to have the luxury of an alpine house for displaying those pots that are in flower.  The colours were a wonderful boost for the soul after the drabness we have had for months. It is also interesting to see the variety of alpines in flower at the moment – if you relied on the media you would think the only things in flower were snowdrops and crocus.

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Seeing these plants and the rock garden and crevice gardens outside confirmed my feeling that my real interest in alpines is in the bulbs rather than cushion plants.

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Neither of us were particularly taken by the rock garden and crevice beds although we realise that this isn’t quite the best time of year but it was all so grey.  However, we were very taken with the small crevice garden made of terracotta tiles.  I think it’s the colour which attracts me but it’s certainly something to consider in the future.

2014_02250086Being February there obviously wasn’t a lot of colour in the main gardens aside from the bulbs although there were one or two camellias starting to flower and this wonderful Prunus.  We did spend quite a bit of time looking at exotic appearing plants for my new whim to have hardy exotics in the garden.  I have many photos of Agaves, Aloes, ferns and other foliage plants to inspire me.  Talking with Victoria helped me crystallise my feelings about my garden and recognise that my interest is really in interesting foliage and we talked at length about other people’s perceptions and how hard it could be to create the garden you want rather than being influenced by others. I think over the recent period I have started to become more focussed and less influenced by the media and others views and it is a nice feeling. It amused me that when seeing some shrubs underplanted with Pulmonaria we both quickly agreed that we didn’t like this plant but had both planted it in our early gardening days as the media and other gardeners told us how wonderful it was.

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We discussed how shrubs planted for winter interest worked and how really you needed a number for the effect and you needed to take into account the light in the garden.  We saw the first brimstone butterfly of the year which was surprisingly thrilling for me.  As Victoria knows the garden so well she knew exactly what bits would look good, which areas would help  inspire me and what we should avoid as it would be full of small children!

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We were particularly taken with this planting of crocus amongst grasses, I suspect it may be replicated in both our gardens.

Needless to say we ended up  in the Plant Centre and left with two trolleys of goodies between us.

I think if we can find a day or two that we can both do later in the year we will be going back as we had such a great day. I would really like to see the new rose garden as I think the combination of the roses and perennials will be wonderful.

The Glasshouse, Wisley – an inspiration

This is a view I have wanted to see for some time now – The Glasshouse at RHS Wisley. As the gardens are a good two and half hours drive from my house I doubted when I would get around to going but my luck was in this week when Victoria offered to take us for a ‘whizz to wizzers’ before our afternoon visit to Chelsea Flower Show.

I love the grass around the lake and the way it is cut in stripes which emphasis the shape of the lake and the journey of the paths leading to the Glasshouse.  It was a particularly warm day when we went, although not as bad as the 30 degrees the day before, but this did not deter us from entering this huge palace to temperate and tropical plants

You can see the scale of the planting when you compare it to Victoria (black top) and VP (blue top).  I have been to the Eden Project several times and so am used to large greenhouses and this one was as good.  However, being the RHS there was a different feel to the Eden Project houses.  To me the Eden Project is designed to recreate particular growing conditions and focuses on showing how various crops are grown in the tropics etc.  The Glasshouse at Wisley is naturally more botanically minded and everything is neatly labelled. As ever with these types of endeavour the plants are divided

into specific  zones: the dry temperate zone (as above); the moist temperate zone; and the tropical zone.  I really liked the dry temperate zone as succulents are a group of plants which I am becoming more and more interested in and it was amazing to see examples of such a size.

The tropical area was definately very humid.  You go up into the higher part of the Glasshouse via paths and steps and then there is a wonderful view through a circular apperture looking down onto the under storey.  I wonder if this is the view that monkeys get in the jungle.  Everywhere throughout the Glasshouse were pots with various plants many of which we grow as houseplants but needless to say these were on a huge scale and all very healthy, as per the Cheese Plant below

I am always struck by the amazing colours of tropical flowers, presumably there is some botanical reason for it such as attracting pollinating insects etc but they really are gorgeous..  Also I often feel they look very artificial particularly because of the plasticy look some of them have such as the Heliconia rostrata below.  Again I presume this is so the flowers can cope with the heat.  I find myself wanting to know more and more about these plants.