Some people are rather sniffy about the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens at Wisley in Surrey: the entry fee and cafés are too expensive, the visitors are all middle-aged and middle class, the displays are too horticultural, the history of the site is not celebrated, the car park is impossible to navigate for the disabled.
All those criticisms have their merits. Yet on a warm day in late April, there are few more pleasant places for keen gardeners to spend some time. The site was first developed as an experimental garden in the 1870s. Today it is almost 100 hectares of display areas, from trained fruit, vegetable plots and alpines, to roses, a wild garden, various water features (including a canal designed by Geoffrey Jellicoe), and extensive trial fields. In summer and autumn, there are perennial gardens to enjoy by top designers Piet Oudolf, Penelope Hobhouse and Tom Stuart-Smith.
When we were there just before Easter, every Spring-flowering bulb, tree and perennial seemed to be in full bloom, all planted in big, heartening swathes: white daffodils, crab apples, pink tulips, lilacs, magnolias, pearl bush, epimediums, rhododendrons, a mass of tiny blue grape hyacinth, even the peonies were joining in.
The Bicentenary Glasshouse, opened in 2007, was full of exquisite displays, including some beautiful orchids, all laid out and labelled in a way that put the similar Grandes Serres at the Jardin des Plantes (about which I posted recently) to shame.
Despite the criticisms of Wisley, and despite the controversial changes the RHS is facing under its new Director General, Sue Biggs, it was difficult on that bright Spring day to do anything but enjoy these flower-filled gardens.