Tag Archives: wisley

Know your place at the gardens

As a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, I receive a monthly magazine called The Garden.  It’s full of horticultural wisdom and a fantastic letters page.  A couple of years ago, there was a strongly worded letter condemning the ‘free for all’ that botanical gardens have become.  Instead of places for quiet contemplation and the seeking of horticultural knowledge, they have become some kind of shrub and flower theme parks where the unknowledgeable gain entry and children run around in the grassy areas.

Heaven forfend!

I’ve been going to Wisley for years, but we started to go more when we had our son.  As a baby, he was always happiest when being wheeled around outdoors, and it was something we could all enjoy.  As he got older, Wisley has been a great place for him to toddle around, and now, yes, he does like to run on the paths and peer over the bridges to look at the gaping koi.

Like the curmudgeonly letter writer, I too cannot abide children running amok in the herbaceous borders or plucking leaves and flowers.  But her tone suggested that their very presence was an anathema.  I was so offended that I wrote back to The Garden, explaining that I didn’t think that children’s behaviour at Wisley was generally a problem and that I hoped to have  many happy visits to Wisley with my son – helping him to learn about horticulture and the great cultivated outdoors.  Not only that, but I suggested that it would be a great idea if Wisley could introduce a designated play area for children and demonstrate how tough, sympathetic planting could be introduced to playgrounds.  Too often, municipal play areas are barren hardscapes with little injection of the natural world.

Wisley playground

Fantastic climbing frames

Wisley playground

Binoculars at the viewing station

Wisley playground

Den building and blocks

My letter was never published.  But there is now a play area at Wisley.  And it’s fabulous.  No swings or slides, but there are climbing frames and brilliant use of logs and stumps – some carved fantastically with snakes and owls and the Green Man.  There’s a tunnel covered with pine logs, like some kind of insect habitat, and there are frames which children can cover with dead branches and palm leaves from the glass house and other leavings of pruning maintenance.  The planting, isn’t up to scratch yet – but it’s early days – and there are olives and eucalyptus and tough herbaceous perennials which are currently fenced off to protect them from being trod on by tiny feet.

Of course, that doesn’t address the issue of inappropriate behaviour by garden visitors.  I take a very firm line on touching the plants or stepping in the borders.  Sadly not something that every garden visitor is as scrupulous about. I saw a woman in her 50s walking around with an allium seed head yesterday. And garden visitors in England are notorious for filching seed or taking surreptitious cuttings.  I have even heard that there is occasionally some scrumping in the orchards.  And yes, I have seen children out of order in the gardens.  More could be done to help parents (and others) enforce appropriate behaviour of garden visitors large and small.  But surely play areas will help little visitors burn off the energy which might be otherwise be spent on smushing the hostas or picking the hydrangeas.

Tractor week at Wisley

It’s “Mad about machines” week at the RHS Wisley botanical gardens.  We took the boy down today to see a vintage tractor parade, ride in a trailer pulled by a tractor and we queued for half an hour just so he could sit in the cab of a John Deere.  I like tractors as much as the next person, but as someone whose grandfather sold Ford tractors – making any effort to sit in one of those green monstrosities felt just a teeny bit like a betrayal.


Nothing runs like a Deere


Nothing lasts like a Ford

Almost as exciting as the vintage tractors were the vintage lawnmowers.  The boy was thrilled to “push” an 1880 model mower and roller around the field.  (Just out of frame is the man who’s pulling it along with a rope).


But most of exciting of all, at least for me, is the discovery that Wisley has installed play area!  The tractors will only be there til the 30th, but the playground is there to stay – tucked into a less visited area in the arboretum but only just around the corner from the fabulous Piet Oudolf borders and not far from the glass house. And it’s a really good one.  All still fairly new, I’m not overly impressed by the planting scheme (so far) – this could be an opportunity to show how horticultural and children’s play CAN be combined successfully.  But they may have more in the works and I really can’t grumble about the equipment, including giant logs they’ve half buried in pits – some filled with pine cones. (yes, on reflection that doesn’t sound that good and none of my pictures really came out that well – but it was really fun).  There are some great climbing frames and tunnels you can build your own teepees by adding branches to pre-constructed wooden frames.


Horticultural highlights

You might think that we didn’t even look at the flowers, and yes we spent little time this week.  But the hydrangeas are lovely, the summer border is just hitting its stride and agapanthus are brilliant throughout the gardens.

Butterflies and ponies

We had a weekend that disappointed my inner eight year old girl.

First off to Wisley, where we walked around in crisp air under amazing blue skies while the toddler slept in his all-terrain pushchair.

Blue skies at Wisley

We managed to pry his eyes open just in time to visit the butterfly exhibit.

We’re members of the RHS, so we get in free – but presumably Wisley needs to keep a steady stream of cash visitors coming through the door so there are the occasional family friendly, gimmicky attractions, particularly in the winter.
To me, there garden is beautiful any time of year and late January is amazing with the witch hazel and cyclamen and hellebore and a handful of snowdrops in bloom.  Surprising treasures in a winter landscape.  And the Piet Oudolf borders are full of striking and sculptural seed heads.  But I understand that not everyone is a garden geek like me.  So to bring in the punters, they pump the glasshouse full of butterflies.

Solitary poser

But not full enough.  Far too many people (and every last one of them with a digital camera) and far too few butterflies.  When I go to a butterfly exhibit I want it to be like the scene in Snow White where all the birds are gathered round here.  I want butterflies galore.  Instead, it was the occasional tired insect surrounded by lenses.  And a few dead (or nearly so) clustered around the trays of rotting fruit that had been left out to lure them from their leafy refuge.


Inner-eight year old girl: where are all the butterflies?

Me: Beautiful day out, some great photos and toddler had a wonderful time using the lift in the glass house.

Pony rides

I’ve been promising the toddler a horse ride for a couple of weeks.  I’m not sure where the idea came from or why he was suddenly so insistent.  I wasn’t even sure, at first, that he meant a real horse ride.  But when I showed him a picture of a child riding a pony at the nearby urban farm he smiled that satisfaction smile that meant that his poorly enunciated demands were finally understood.

On Sunday it finally worked out that we could go and with some rushing around we made it down to Deen City Farm only a few minutes late.  I joined the back of the queue, which moved not at all as a birthday party had booked pony rides for all the little kids.   Simon and Bill went off to enjoy his favourite ride of all.  The yellow bus.

Determined bus driver

As the party cleared out, and the line started to move I called Simon who brought a screaming, kicking toddler up to the pony queue.  No promises of pony rides could compensate for removal from the yellow bus (which wasn’t even turned on that day).

But when he saw other children riding the pony and saw that he was close to being fitted with his own riding helmet.  He calmed down.  When the woman reached for his hand to lift him up onto the platform he did not look back.   I could tell that he was excited, but he was trying to keep it cool.

The pony ride itself was brief, when they say ‘about a minute’ on the website – that seems fairly generous.  But he loved it.  A real horse ride, on a beautiful pony.


Inner eight-year old girl: I waited all that time and I didn’t even get to ride the pony beyond a muddy old yard.

Me: All that running around and waiting in the cold was worth it to see the look on his face.

Blinded by the lights

RHS Wisley the botanical gardens in Surrey is always a beautiful place to go, but during the Christmas season they’ve added a bit extra magic with “lumiere” in the gardens.  Lumiere, I think, means lights designed by French people to be worthy in an artistic sense and funky.

We had no idea that they’d have such a display and went down there just to enjoy the gardens. It’s freezing cold but the sky was clear, it was bright and the light in the glasshouse especially was the most beautiful I’d ever seen it.

Getting to see the lights in the garden after dark was an unexpected bonus. It was absolutely beautiful seeing the gardens lit at night, I’d never stayed past dusk.

I wish I could have taken more pictures, but being low light it was difficult to set up shots without a tripod. The first one I tried to do with a bit of propping on a bench and holding my breath to avoid camera shake resulted in me losing my toddler momentarily. (He’d wandered off in a fit of pique over his removal from the Christmas displays).

The lumiere is on at the gardens until 3 January.