Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wisley Garden, England

The RHS garden Wisley is supposed to be the jewel in the RHS’ crown. It’s certainly a fantastic garden, which has almost anything one might be interested in as a gardener. Unfortunately for me, Wisley came at the end of our spring trip to England and I have to admit that I was a little bit gardened out. I really didn’t think this would ever be possible, but apparently five large gardens and an even larger garden show are just about enough for one trip. And maybe, although it seems sacrilege to even suggest it, I also grew tired of the absolute perfection of each garden we visited. Forests and wild meadows never seem to lose their charms – could it be that English gardens, or any type of garden for that matter, are just too ‘landscaped’ for their own good? Or maybe I’m just reading way too much into this – seeing multiple castles or paintings can also wear you down, no matter how beautiful each is individually.

But I digress. Back to Wisley, which really is a very lovely garden. It’s the oldest garden owned by the RHS, which means the Society has had over 100 years to develop it into one of the top attractions in England. The well-known greenhouse is instantly recognizable, while the Wisley trial fields are the sacred ground where the “RHS Award of Merit” is determined. There is great history at Wisley, a true establishment of English gardening culture.

As the gardens are very large, I’ll just go through a few of my favourite sections. One of the latest notable additions to the garden is Piet Oudolf’s modern take on the English double border. His wide borders run from the aforementioned signature greenhouse up a large slope, to the upper part of the gardens. While in late May they clearly weren’t at their full glory, they were still nicely filled in. I did think that perhaps some more structure (which is often found in Oudolf’s work) would have made the composition stronger, but maybe late spring is not the best time to judge.

A completely different area was the alpine garden. Here, attention was focused on the individual plants, and late spring was a great time to visit. As one might expect, everything was grown to perfection - a real candy store for the alpine plant enthusiast.

As seems to be often the case, I also really enjoyed the woodland section. There were two woodland sections at Wisley, one a little more ‘gardened’ with smaller trees and a great concentration of lovely woodland floor plants, and another which was more forest-like, at the further end of the garden. The latter featured some amazing rare and old tree specimens, as well as an impressive collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, all in bloom. A beautiful garden to enjoy, even in the perennial English drizzle.

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