A February outing to RHS Wisley


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


14 Comments Add yours

  1. It is wildly beautiful! 🙂

  2. This is a thrill for me! You have made my day. I’ve visited RHS Wisley in May, June, July, and September, but never had any hope of seeing it this time of year. The Prunus looks like one we have blooming here now, Okame. It is a great favorite of mine, but sadly I don’t have the sun for it in the current garden. I always get a photo of the tile crevice bed too; no one would think of making something similar in SC. The Henry Moore is fabulous, especially the bare feet.

  3. What a perfect day, I imagine you would have enjoyed Wisley anyway, but being able to talk plants with a good friend as you walked round must have made it very special, I am a little envious as it isn’t something I’ve managed to do for a couple of years, it makes such a difference. Interesting you saying about the urge to concentrate on what you want to do rather than on what the media says is good. I suspect the pressures are quite subtle sometimes, but if there is a strength in British gardening it surely has to be the amazing diversity in gardening styles. I find it really noticeable, reading your blog, how much more definite and focused you are about your garden and I think the garden is changing in new and exciting ways as you stamp your personality on it. Its something I must remember to do myself, keep true to what excites me.Could you turn one of your planthouses into an alpie house compete with sand in trays?

  4. Anna says:

    Sounds as if you had a great day out Helen and in good company. I’ve never been to Wisley but hopefully it’s on the cards one of these days. I think that your planting preferences do change over the years as you find out what there is out there, what you like and what grows well for you. However unlike you and Victoria I wouldn’t be without pulmonarias which I too planted in my early gardening days 🙂

  5. annette2121 says:

    I agree the crocuses with grasses look wonderful. I suspect there may be more than just you and Victoria copying that idea.
    I didn’t think I liked pulmonarias either but when I dug some up to create a new garden I found I couldn’t throw them out. I have put them in a more shaded area and they look much more at home.

  6. Pauline says:

    What a wonderful day you had and to be with a friend and bounce ideas off one another must have made it twice as good. I think our gardening ideas change as our knowledge grows, I also think we become more confident as the years go by and can stick to what we want in our own garden. The photo of all the crocus is so beautiful, I love Wisley at any time of year.

  7. Yvonne Ryan says:

    Yes the alpines look lovely in the pots and cannot get lost that way. Are you planning on spilling over into your next door garden – every time you go to look at gardens you can’t resist buying more plants!! Hot late summer here in Auckland – swimming daily at Omaha now (no 1 daughters big home on the golf course) Today instead of swimming at beach, the waves pretty big, I swam at high tide in the estuary, late sun pouring across, sea twinkling, boats bobbing and getting ready to go fishing – devine! Garden news – my daughters raised veg gardens an abundance of vegetables!! For a ‘non-gardener’ she is doing well. She has also popped in a banana, some coffee bushes etc. There is a large banana plantation just up the road and every time I come up here I buy a bunch, smallish and so sweet and yum. Even when they go black still sweet! Lots of roadside stalls here also with honesty boxes. Easy to overbuy as all so fresh and yum! Seasonal eating is so good. The eggplants and capsicans are a favourite of mine at the moment.

  8. The crevice garden doesn’t do it for me, either, although somehow I’ve missed the small terracotta one and agree that it looks more attractive. I hadn’t realised the alpine house would be so colourful at this time of year – must visit soon.

  9. Roz Bailey says:

    I enjoyed your RHS Wisley tour very much and get quite envious of all your dainty bulbs and green lushness as we have been very hot here. I would also love to see the Rose Garden at Wisley when you go, so don’t forget us
    Roz Bailey – Bloomfield Cottage, Australia

  10. VP says:

    Looks fun and I think the latest Henry Moore sculpture is better than the other one they’ve just given back. It also reminds me of a similar sculpture called ‘London Pride’ on South Bank in London which we discovered during our Paralympics visit.

    If you ever get the change to go to RHS Harlow Carr, do go. The alpine house there is even better than Wisley’s, though Wisley does score highly in my view with that terracotta arrangement.

    I’m up for a visit if you and Victoria go again later this year 🙂

  11. bittster says:

    The bulbs look fantastic. I like to think there are at least two or three back ups and not every pot of crocus or narcissus is grown so perfectly. Love the crocus in the lawn, wish mine would flower in a lush green lawn, unfortunately the winter usually leaves us with a khaki colored mat at crocus time. Glad to hear you enjoyed your garden visit, it’s been a while.

  12. Cathy says:

    It was July last year when I went to Wisley, so it is interesting to see it at a completely different time and to hear your and Victoria’s musings

  13. Hoov says:

    I’m fascinated by the crevice plantings-does that improve–drainage–soil warmth??–or is it purely for the look? I’ve seen examples here and there. It looks wonderful.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      I think the point of crevice gardens is that firstly they are a different appearance to rock gardens but they do provide better drainage for the plants. Alpines that grow high in rocky conditions don’t mind the cold but don’t like winter wet. They naturally send down long roots to seek about moisture and nutrients so the crevice garden replicates this.

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