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The Gardens of the RHS Part Six – Orchids at Wisley

The new Centenary Glasshouse at Wisley is one of our favourite, regular places for visiting and enjoying.


In our September wander we made several detours through its big sliding doors and into its warm, dry interiors as thunder storms threatened to periodically drown us. We always enjoy the glasshouse plants but Jude the Undergardeners favourites have to be the orchids, although here she is admiring a Passionflower.


If we visit any garden with orchids hardy or greenhouse varieties she is drawn to them. But I don’t complain – they are unbelievably beautiful, the blooms richly coloured and eccentrically shaped. Here under the protection of Wisley’s glass roof they flourish.

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With such a stunning, varied and comprehensive collection of orchids what glasshouse could wish for more?

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Wisley Part Five – The Centenary Glasshouse

I promised you a sample of the delights of the RHS’s Centenary Glasshouse, and here they are.


Usually in glasshouses the flowers are the stars of the show so just for a change let us begin by bringing foliage to the fore and letting leaves revel in the lime-light.

Foliage in all shapes, sizes, textures, markings and colours are to be found around every corner.

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Now for the flowers!

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Wisley Part 4 – the Steppe-Prairie Meadows

Alongside the Centenary Glasshouse at RHS’s Wisley is an area of meadow planting that has to be one of the best in England. We walked around it in the rain and our enthusiasm was not dampened one iota. The design and plant choice is the creation of Professor James Hitchmough, best known as the right hand man of Nigel Dunnet from Sheffield University.

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His garden at Wisley features  naturalistic, flowing plantings of hardy perennials and grasses which look and feel remarkably natural even though carefully and thoughtfully designed.

The word that springs to mind for this planting style is “gentle”. When walking through the gardens along its meandering narrow gravel paths we felt the atmosphere – peaceful, calm and relaxing.

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The Gardens of the RHS Part 3 – Prairies and Meadows at Wisley.


When we first visited Wisley a few decades ago the grass was cut short and neatly edged. There certainly were no wildflowers allowed to grow amongst the neat blades of grass, and there certainly were no meadows.

But now differential grass cutting is favoured with some areas cut short, others allowed to grow longer and wildflowers are establishing as they enjoy this new habitat of longer grasses. The trend towards planted meadows and prairie-style plantings are well represented, which is good for us because these styles are a real favourite with us both.

Piet Oudolf has designed and planted magnificent double borders – very different to traditional English double herbaceous borders such as those at Arley House.

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Carefully chosen herbaceous plants are planted in large groups to create swathes of colour and texture. In early autumn, when we looked at Piet Oudolf’s borders, grasses featured strongly alongside drying stalks and seed heads of herbaceous perennials. There were still flowers to be seen and they were enhanced by the background of stems.

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To enjoy a look at the plants of Piet Oudolf’s Wisley Borders click a photo in the gallery below and follow the arrow.

But Oudolf is not the only garden designer to create meadows at Wisley, as a newer and equally beautiful planting area has been created by Professor James Hitchmough. It is described as a steppe-prairie meadow. See the next post ………..

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The Gardens of the RHS Part 2 – Sculpture at Wisley

We were in luck when we visited Wisley – a sculpture exhibition was taking place throughout the gardens, with sculptures of all styles positioned with great sensitivity. We didn’t like them all but that is what art is all about. If we all liked the same pieces it would be a boring art world.

Here is a selection of those we enjoyed.

First figures ……………….

Then couples ……………..

The simple and amazingly beautiful!

And last but far from least the downright cute!

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The Gardens of the RHS Part 1 – A Tour of Wisley


The Royal Horticultural Society is probably the most important, most well known and most influential gardening society in the world. We are lucky to live in the UK where we have access to their own gardens and to their recommended list of gardens open to the public.

Last Year we enjoyed visits to three of their four gardens, Rosemoor in Devon, Harlow Carr in Yorkshire and their main garden Wisley in Surrey. The one we didn’t get around to seeing was Hyde Hall in Essex – maybe later this year.

In this series of posts I shall share our visits with you. We naturally begin with their main garden, Wisley. There is so much of interest to gardeners that I shall post a blog each day this week based on different aspects of Wisley. Hopefully these will provide a little respite from the cold and wet. So please enjoy my Wisley Week.

Perhaps we had better start with one of the classic Wisley views. Then I shall share a few views to give a feeling for this special place.


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These huge sloping double borders were designed by the great Piet Oudolf. We saw them first just as they were planted when it was mostly soil dotted with little young plants all raring to go. Every visit we make to Wisley we head for these borders to see how they have developed. Over time they have been altered with some plants replaced with more effective, more appropriate ones. They are now at their peak. See more of Piet Oudolf’s borders in a future post “Meadows and Prairies at Wisley”. DSC_0094

The recently built Centenary Glasshouse is a work of art in itself, one of the finest examples of garden architecture to be seen anywhere at anytime. Look out for the future posts, “Orchids at Wisley” and “The Centenary Glasshouse at Wisley”, to see what is going on under all that glass.DSC_0095 What would a visit to Wisley be without a gallery of plants?


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In my next Wisley blog I invite you to share a selection of sculpture which was displayed around the grounds at the time of our visit.

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The Gardens of Piet Oudolf

Piet Oudolf has been one of the most influential garden designers in the C21. We have had the pleasure of seeing several examples of his work. The development of our own garden has been influenced by his choice of plants and his plant combination. Our borders now feature far more grasses, achilleas, monardas, alliums, heleniums and sedum and we consider more carefully how good plants can look as they die off during the autumn and how well they stand in the winter.

I wonder why local authorities in the UK have not taken his ideas on board – why do we still see so much Victorian bedding in our parks and other areas of public planting? Shrewsbury, our closest town and the county town of Shropshire, seems to be going backwards with more such backward-looking planting appearing. We often look at the local roundabouts and parks and think how good they could look if more imaginative, “new perennial style” gardening was adopted. Just look at Oudolf’s planting at Wisley, Trentham and Pensthorpe and imagine how well this style would work in public spaces.

We visited Pensthorpe in Norfolk not long after the Piet Oudolf garden had been revamped, and they were looking splendid.

We visited the wonderful gardens at Trentham several times during 2011 and early in 2012. Whenever you visit the gardens by Oudolf are outstanding. Piet Oudolf’s planting here is in two distinct areas with contrasting character and atmosphere. his “Rivers od Grasses” is unlike any planting I have ever experienced. Lush green low-cut paths meander through mass plantings of tall decorative grasses. Children seem to love this area seeing it as an informal maze, a place to explore gently and quietly. This is a wonderful example of how plants and garden design in public places can influence how people feel and move around.

Beyond the River of Grass is an area of perennials and grasses planted “en masse” with winding gravel paths for exploration.

I decided to look back through my photo library for examples of pictures I have taken over the last year or so that show how our own planting has been influenced by the work of Piet Oudolf. Firstly in “The Chicken Garden” in May when the lollipop flowers of allium dominate.

New planting of grasses and sedum in the recently re-vamped “Prairie Garden”.

In our “Hot Border” a mass planting of Crocosmia “Lucifer” are interspersed with campanula, verbascum and inula.