Behind the scenes at the RHS


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

10 Comments on “Behind the scenes at the RHS

  1. It all sounds like a big gulp…and a sure opportunity for learning, while being a true service to RHS.

  2. Sounds like an interesting project Helen. Hope you enjoy taking part in it and find it educating. You will be quite an expert on Asters by the time you finish! Helen

  3. Oh what a fabulous opportunity Helen which you will no doubt enjoy. Feel free to witter on about asters as much as you like.

  4. Sounds like a really interesting experience. I always enjoy the Trial Beds as Wisley – I think I like the orderliness of it all, in contrast to my garden!

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