by Janis on 9th September 2022 / 0 comments

A joy to explore in September

On a bright September a couple of years ago, Gary and I ventured off to Surrey to visit the beautiful gardens at RHS Garden Wisley.

We were intrigued to see how the autumnal months influenced their planting. Whether there would still be an array of colours and swathes of lush green verdant foliage throughout the captivating beds and borders.

Well, we certainly weren’t disappointed. The delightful aspect regarding RHS Wisley is that not only do they have their central external gardens to explore, but they also have a vast glasshouse. The glasshouse stands 12 metres (40 feet) tall, and along with its selection of exotic planting, you’ll even discover a waterfall inside.


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A little background on RHS Garden Wisley

Seeding the dream

Sir Thomas Hanbury gave RHS Garden Wisley to the Royal Horticultural Society in 1903. At the time, a sizeable portion of the estate was woodland, and only 24ha (60 acres) was a cultivated garden.

The RHS team nurtured the world-class gardens, and now the magnificent grounds stretch over 97 hectares (240 acres).

The Jellicoe Canal facing the Water Lily Pavilion from the Arts and Crafts Wisley Laboratory
Jellicoe Canal facing the Water Lily Pavilion
There are so many different areas of RHS Wisley to explore, all offering that little something extra, from the enchanting Walled Gardens and the Water Lily Pavilion to the tiered meandering Rock Garden and Bonsai Walk; it’s all sensational.

Creating memories of a lifetime

Following a family tradition
I first visited RHS Wisley with my grandad many years ago and remembered climbing up through the rock garden; it brings back some heart-warming memories.
A view up to the Rock Gardens across a wooden bridge over a lily filled canal.
The Rock Garden

My grandad was a very keen gardener and often exhibited his own delphiniums at garden shows. His delphiniums were beautiful; he nurtured them himself by cross-pollinating, trying to create the perfect shade of blue.

My other memory of visiting RHS Wisley was seeing the attractive half-timbered laboratory. The Arts and Crafts style building was built in 1916 but bared the resemblance to a Tudor home.

The red brick Arts and Crafts Wisley Laboratory in the RHS Garden Wisley at the end of the Jellicoe Canal
The Arts and Crafts Wisley Laboratory
The Laboratory is still used by the RHS Scientists and the Gardening Advice team; however, in the next few years, a new horticultural scientific centre of excellence will be built within it and hopefully open to the public.

The view along the Jellicoe Canal

Exploring the captivating Walled Garden
One of my favourite spots in RHS Wisley is at the end of the Jellicoe Canal, which gracefully lays at the feet of the Laboratory. Step into the Water Lilly Pavilion, and you can admire the canal and the Arts and Craft historical Laboratory as the backdrop.
Looking along the Jellicoe canal lily pond, past its fountain, to the Tudor building, now known as The Laboratory.
Jellicoe Canal

There are delightful trails to follow around Wisley if you wish.

However, we just loved wending our way along the tranquil footpaths, not knowing what we would discover around the next hidden corner or through the secret verdant archway.

The beds within the walled garden laid out in symmetrical patterns edged with Buxus hedges which are predominately green, yellow & white.
The Walled Gardens
Just nearby the Water Lily Pavilion is the charming Walled Garden; there is something about a walled garden that really feels enchanting. I can just imagine honeysuckle clambering along old terracotta bricks and fragrant roses snaking their way in between.

We’re exploring Wisley’s Glasshouse

It has a tropical feel

After strolling through the old woodland ‘Oakwood’ sections, we wander back onto one of the main paths adjacent to the Rock Garden and the flourishing waterway, which was full of lily pads.

RHS Wisley is such a delight to walk around; you’ll constantly be stopping to admire the plants. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have your ‘PlantNet’ app ready to identify plants; you must download it if you haven’t already. It is so useful.

A view of the Glasshouse across the lake from the borders around it.
The Glasshouse by the lake
We headed around to the enormous glasshouse, which was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 2007. As you can imagine, the plants flourishing inside the glasshouse are very exotic and really packs a punch.
Looking through the waterfall inside the Glasshouse.
Behind the waterfall
A delicate orchid in the Glasshouse with a mottled purple and cream flow with a dark purple centre.
Hidden in the foliage
We ambled the three climate-controlled areas of ‘moist’, ‘dry’, and ‘tropical’, giving a different perspective on how plants survive in extreme conditions. Within the section echoing the effects of a cloud forest, there’s a gushing waterfall accentuating the feel of moisture in the air. You can wander high within the glasshouse and feel like you’re looking down from the treetops.

RHS Wisley’s memorable Rock Garden

Ensure you head to the top
As mentioned, the Rock Garden is where I remember visiting with my grandfather; it feels like it hasn’t changed in my mind; however, the skilled planting of the RHS gardeners makes the memories so clear.
Looking up across the layers of the Rock Garden towards a large tree.
Elegant Acer in the rock garden
A stream leading to a waterfall within the Rock Garden.
Waterfall weaving through the rock garden

We snake our way up through the narrow paths amongst the gnarly old rocks and admire the delicate planting of the feathery acers and autumn flowering crocus.

Keep winding your way up to the top, and you’ll be rewarded with exceptional views across RHS Wisley Gardens below; they’ve even thoughtfully placed some benches for you and me.

The delicate delights

The Alpines and the Bonsai

Our next stop was to the Alpine Houses; I love these delicate little plants; they just make me smile. With a backdrop of ochre stone and a base of the honey-coloured shingle, the striking flash of colour lights up any unforgiving terrain.

It’s incredible how these tiny species flourish year after year.

Deep red flowers stand out in the Rock Garden.
Vibrant colours through the ochre stones
As we step out of the Alpine Houses, we take a stroll along Bonsai Walk and admire the finely manicured oriental trees. Some of these lovingly kept Bonsai trees are around 80 years old.
A mixture of Bonsai's & statues alongside the Bonsai Path.
Bonsai Walk

Good to know

There is plenty of seating throughout the gardens where you can enjoy the surroundings or just give your feet a rest.

Mingling amongst the vegetable garden

RHS Wisley aromatic herb garden
There are so many sections of RHS Wisley that I love, and the flourishing vegetable and herb gardens are no exception.
The vegetable garden planted out in neat rows.
The Vegetable Garden

RHS Wisley takes vegetable patches to another level; they are exceptional. Weave your way amongst the lush beds and see if you can spot the 50 types of vegetables that they are nurturing. Oh yes, then seek out the different varieties of these vegetables.

Of course, I’m only joking.

Take your time around the different sections and amble beneath the canopy of pears and the grape vines overflowing with fruit.

An orbital feature stainless steel is the centrepiece of the Herb Garden.
The Herb Garden

Nearby the vegetable garden is Wisley’s aromatic herb garden. This is a delightful place to sit and admire the surroundings, watch the bees hop from one lavender stem to another, and enjoy peace and tranquillity.

Our herb garden is not quite a patch on Wisley’s, but hey, from little acorns, mighty oaks grow.

Embracing the exotic gardens

And the tranquillity of the cottage gardens
I’ve come to realise that dahlias are a big hit for September colour in your garden beds and visiting the hilltop border at Wisley undoubtedly confirmed this. I’m sold on dahlias; I do like the look of the pom-pom ones.
A close-up of two red Pom-Pom Dahlia flowers in the RHS Garden Wisley
Pom-Pom Dahlia
Pink tipped star dahlias with a yellow centre.
Vibrant pink dahlias in the Hilltop Border

We wind our way down the main path towards Bowes-Lyon Rose Garden and onto the Exotic and Cottage gardens, all of which I was looking forward to seeing.

The Exotic Garden is still awash with bold colours in September. However, the best time to visit for full-on vibrancy would be to head to Wisley in the summer months.

The banana plants tower high above, and you can imagine sitting underneath them in the heat of the day, enjoying the secluded shade. The Exotic Garden unquestionably transports you to another part of the world. Burning shades of orange and crimson, dazzling pinks to stop you in your tracks and exquisite blends of purple and cerise.

A corner bench under the broad leaves of the banana plants.
Hiding amongst the banana plants
Teardrop red-veined flowers dropping down.
Vibrant shades in the Exotic Garden

We then seamlessly amble through into RHS Wisley’s Cottage Garden; if only I could replicate a square metre of this enchanting oasis in our cottage garden, I would be happy.

The delicate and thoughtful planting is quintessentially English; enchanting fragrance floats in the air, and the calming sound of water trickling amongst the swaying grasses is captivating.

Visiting in September, we had missed the full blooms; however, some of the pastel blooms were still clinging onto the last of the autumn sunshine.

The fountain at the centre of the Cottage Gardens with a statue of a swan diver entering the pond.
The water feature in the Cottage Garden

I’m sure we’ll return to RHS Wisley in the near future, especially to see the gardens during spring and summer.

Also, in the summer of 2021, RHS Wisley opened RHS Hilltop, the Home of Gardening Science, a state-of-the-art science building surrounded by three spectacular new gardens. The Wellbeing Garden, the World Food Garden and the Wildlife Garden.

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