23 Apr 2015

Blossom, bulbs, bunnies and bees - Spring at RHS Wisley

Rhododendron, Hellebore, Magnolia stellata,
Primula 'Iris Mainwaring', Skimmia, bee on comfrey.

Last weekend I had to return a plant to the nursery at Wisley. I'd bought two identical white Echinacea in mid-January; one grew, the other didn't. No problem, the RHS nurseries guarantee their plants so I was confident of getting a replacement or refund. As a bonus, the sun was shining so the trip also provided a good excuse to use my membership to have a wander round the gardens.

There was a Lindt sponsored bunny hunt over the school holidays, an excellent idea to tempt visitors into all areas, with the promise of chocolate at the end. Who could resist? Not I! I collected a form and kept an eye out - even adults like a treasure hunt! It also provided a good framework for my walk, taking me through areas that I explore less frequently like the Glasshouse, Rockery and  Children's play area.


I had every intention of making this a short-ish visit, a couple of hours max.  But that's just silly.  Even at this time of year, I was stopping every few paces to take photos or peer at a label - hence the delay in writing this post, so many photos!  I'd last visited in mid-January in search of scent, winter colour and texture; in the three month interim, most of that has now, as expected, been overtaken by spring planting. People not busy hunting for gold bunnies were busy photographing the magnolias in full bloom - a breathtaking sight on a sunny day.



As ever, I found wandering around such an education.  Admittedly, I'm completely addicted to plants but there really is no substitute for seeing established plants growing throughout the year or how to combine plants for maximum effect: Muscari under a gorgeous ornamental cherry (Prunus 'Shirotae') or primula next to saxifraga growing out of a wall in the rock garden, sedums (starting spring growth but with last year's seedheads intact) next to grasses Eragrostis curvula. Often shrubs will grow much larger than nurseries would have us believe, given the right conditions - at Wisley, you'll see how big that unpruned bay (Laurus nobilis), sweet box (Sarcococca) or Fatsia will grow! (I walked around a huge mature Fatsia, checking to see if it really was just the one shrub. It was.)





Banks of Skimmia took over where January's Daphne odorata left off, scenting the air all around; white camellias were still looking good while the red camellias were getting a bit, well, past it.  I walked past swathes of Erythronium 'Pagoda' on my way up to the orchard, a small woodland plant I was particularly taken with. Useful and beautiful ground cover is always worth noting.

Erythronium 'Pagoda'


The pruning in the orchard is a lesson in itself which I'll cover in a second post on the soft fruits and edibles growing at Wisley. I always have a look at the trial grounds when I visit, it's so interesting to see the methods that are used and what's growing. The route that I usually walk to get there is via the Glasshouse Borders; as a big fan of Piet Oudolf planting, this is my must-visit part of the gardens. In January the borders were breathtakingly lovely in their midwinter monochrome with the dried seedheads of herbaceous perennials left intact; now those have been cut back as new growth comes through and all is green and fresh, albeit seen at a distance as the borders have been roped off while the grass is reseeded.



Part of my bunny hunt directed me into the glasshouse. There were two bunnies to be found here but first you had to tear yourself away from the scented air at the entrance! Scented plants had been lavishly arranged around citrus trees - it was an extraordinary treat to smell the gorgeous clove like scent of a dianthus or sweet pea in April!

Sweet peas, freesia, dianthus, Linaria reticulata 'Flamenco', Heliotrope and geranium

Lilies clambering up through palms gave me more than one photographic Georgia O'Keeffe moment and heavily scented stocks (Matthiola incana) added to the perfume although eventually I reached sensory overload and had to move on. All of these can be grown outdoors in the garden in the summer. (Although a neighbour here in NW5 has freesias in bloom in a sunny spot under her window as I type!)

I admit that I hadn't expected the gardens to offer so much of a sensory treat this early in the gardening year but there's always something to take away from a garden visit whatever the time of year. In my case that was literally true as I came away with a haul of useful pollinator plants plus some low maintenance/high visual plants for my mum's garden. More importantly, I found so much inspiration for transitioning 'spring into summer'/'shade into light' planting, no matter what size a garden is - an invaluable resource for a fledgling garden designer.

There are heaps more photos which I haven't found room for here so, if interested, have a look at  my Flickr slideshow and I strongly recommend a visit soon - I've pencilled my next visit into the diary already.



17 comments:

  1. Sounds like a fab day out - and all the better for being spontaneous. I think it has been a good year for Magnolias, because we have had little of the heavy rain which normally coincides with their flowering.

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    1. Ah, yes, spontaneity is mine! With my son at uni, household chores can be put on hold while I tootle off on a whim. The magnolia at the front of the flats I live in has been superb this year - It definitely didn't flower as well or as long last year. One of my favourite spring sights!

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  2. With so much going on at this time of the year it's no surprise you stayed there for much longer than you intended. Lovely pics Caro!

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    1. Thanks, guys - and I can't wait to go back, especially to see how the Glasshouse borders are shaping up. I was very impressed with the Glasshouse plants - I expect that's where you head for at Wisley!

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  3. So much gorgeous colour and variety already, I can't believe it's only April! I don't live very far from Wisley but I haven't been in a while, I always spend the whole day wandering, and I can't resist the gift shop! ;) I must head there soon! Katie x

    http://www.long-may-she-rain.blogspot.co.uk/

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    1. Hi Katie, Yep, I felt the same. I was sort of expecting a few daffodils, tulips and loads of bare branches - talk about a pleasant surprise! I managed to resist the gift shop as it was heaving with people - the plant nursery was a different matter entirely! Especially with a few special offers on for plants. Too much to resist!

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  4. Oh it looks gorgeous. I think the magnolias would be my favourites, and I love bay as well, I'm always excited when I see a big one. In Taunton the other day I saw a proper tree sized one with a single trunk, it was fantastic. It looks like you had a wonderful visit. I could easily spend hours there too. Maybe one day... Have a good weekend Caro. CJ xx

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    1. There's a house in a nearby street where two bays trees stand guard at the entrance to the front garden and they're now huge! It's for that reason that I've left mine in a pot where I can control the size of it. xx

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  5. A most enjoyable post and lovely pictures. I agree about how good the magnolias have been this year. Flighty xx

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    1. Thanks! It's a pity that magnolias don't flower for longer as the show is over within a month - if we're lucky! xx

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  6. They had a similar event at Harlow Carr last Easter and they also had beautiful swathes of erythronium. the problem is that unless you grow only one plant in a garden you can't get the same effect in a modest space,

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    1. That's true, Sue, but the effect can be achieved by having different plants but in similar tones. I'd plant primroses, cowslips, erythronium, narcissus and wild garlic together for a woodland floor covering underneath deciduous trees. The space wouldn't need to be that big, a large border in a shady corner would do it.

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  7. Your trip to Wisley was so lovely. I enjoyed seeing all your pictures of spring delights! I too am a big fan of Piet Oudolf. What a shame we couldn't share those scents with you too. Sarah x

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    1. Thanks, Sarah, yes I definitely had a brilliant day out. I'm often tempted to try filming a short video for the sounds as well as the scents but I think smell-o-blog is a way off sadly!

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  8. I've never been to Wisley and am most envious of folk who live near enough to do so. I imagine it must be somewhere where you would loose all concept of time. You must come away full of inspiration Caro. That's one big scary bunny outside that greenhouse!

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    1. There was another scary bunny at the entrance to the gardens! It was great fun trying to spot them all - apparently I missed a couple but I was still given my chocolate at the end, haha! There are still many, many gardens on my wish list, Anna - some within driving distance but others are more of a holiday trip - the poison garden at Alnwick on the NE coast is on my bucket list - and I still haven't been to Sissinghurst! Caro xx

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  9. Impossible to make a quick visit to such an inspirational place, I can almost feel your buzzing enthusiasm and look forward to hearing more about where all that inspiration leads. Loved the slideshow.

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Caro x

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