Wisley itself needs no real selling as it is a beautiful venue and the area of Wilson’s Wood perfectly suited our event.
RHS Garden Wisley
RHS Garden Wisley’s 200 acres of expertly designed and lovingly tended landscape contain all that is needed to inspire any garden lover. Home to some of the world’s most important plant collections, Wisley is vital to the future of gardening and attracts around 1 million visitors each year.
There is a vast amount to experience at Wisley, including stunning mixed borders; a river of 9,000 roses and herbaceous plants running across gentle terraces and lawns that creates an unrivalled sensory impact in the Bowes Lyon Rose Garden; exquisite alpine and rocky plant collections in the impressive Rock Garden, the nooks and crannies of the Crevice Garden and the Alpine House.
Also, a spectacular glasshouse – the size of ten tennis courts – houses a world-class collection of tender plants from across three climate zones. The exterior is equally striking, with naturalistic perennial borders creating a soft frame to the dramatic glass structure. A walk amongst the hills of azaleas and rhododendrons, the Pinetum and Arboretum, is sublime. And in the demonstration fruit and vegetable gardens, there are numerous opportunities to pick up hints for ‘growing your own’.
The Royal Horticultural Society was given Wisley in 1903, although at that time only a small part of the 24-hectare (60-acre) estate was actually cultivated as a garden, the remainder being wooded farmland. The original garden was the creation of George Fergusson Wilson – businessman, scientist, inventor, keen gardener and a former Treasurer of the Society. He bought the site in 1878 and established the Oakwood experimental garden, where he worked on making 'difficult plants grow successfully'. The garden acquired a reputation for its collections of lilies, gentians, Japanese irises, primulas and water plants. The present Wild Garden at Wisley is the direct descendant of Oakwood and despite changes is still true to the original concept.
After Wilson's death in 1902, Sir Thomas Hanbury bought Oakwood and the adjoining Glebe Farm. Sir Thomas was a wealthy Quaker who had founded the celebrated garden of La Mortola, on the Italian Riviera. In 1903, he presented the Wisley estate in trust to the Society for its perpetual use.
Nothing could have been more providential in the circumstances. For the previous 30 years, the Society had been seeking a larger garden 'beyond the radius of the London smoke' to replace the garden at Chiswick, which it had leased since 1822. It was also committed to building a new exhibition hall and offices in Vincent Square (and the construction work had already started). Both projects were seen as a fitting way to celebrate the Society's forthcoming centenary in 1904 but there were heated arguments among the Fellows over which should have priority for the available funds.
Sir Thomas' generous donation solved both these problems. By May 1904, the move from Chiswick to Wisley was complete and, in July, King Edward VII officially opened the new headquarters at Vincent Square – all in time to mark the centenary.
While Wisley was taking shape as an ornamental garden, its educational and scientific roles were never forgotten. A small laboratory was opened and the School of Horticulture founded to instruct young people in the principles of horticulture and prepare them for careers as professional gardeners.
Following the move to Wisley the Society resumed trials of flowers, vegetables and fruit, which had been an important part of the Society's work since 1860 . The trials 'epitomise... the Society's endeavour to show to the public the best kinds of plants to grow' – one of the principal objectives of the garden. That combination of learning and pleasure is the essence of Wisley.