Yesterday I took the day off and went to see the RHS gardens at Wisley, with a friend.
Ever been there? I hadn't, despite years of people saying how wonderful it was. But finally I've been, and I have to say that now I understand why people speak of it so highly.
The location is a bit underwhelming, being quite literally just off the M25 at Junction 10. A quick dash down the A3, follow the brown daisy signs, down the off-ramp, round the roundabout, and back onto the A3 heading back for the M25 - hang on, that can't be right? Oh, yes, it is, within 50 yards you turn off and there you are.
The car parks are somewhat reminiscent of Disneyland, or a theme park: you expect a disembodied voice to say "you have parked in car park 2, zone H, please remember this information or you will never find your car again...." Yes, the car parks are huge, and they need to be: I arrived 20 minutes after opening and car park 1 was already full!
Once inside, the place is wonderfully well organised. You buy your ticket - not cheap at £9.90, or £10.90 if you elect to go for GiftAid - and are given a nice clear map. There are four different places to eat, scattered about the site, so even in mid-August we had no delay in being served. The place itself is huge, so it rarely feels busy or overcrowded, and best of all, there are several "family" areas or play areas, so the noisiest of the visitors tend to congregate in easily-avoided zones. The serving staff were truly excellent (they appeared to all be young, all be superbly polite and helpful, and were almost exclusively of foreign extraction. Coincidence? I wonder...) and the whole place was a model of cleanliness and neatness.
As a gardener, I was very impressed with how kempt it was generally, but happy to find odd areas that were over-run with bindweed. It was reassuring to see that even with a lot of staff, there is always some weeding still to be done.
Actually, labelling throughout was pretty good: when going round most gardens, labelling is a big part of the enjoyment, as you either get confirmation that you knew it's name, or information if you didn't.
I was particularly struck by some labels which were old roof tiles - one way to stop visitors pinching them, I suppose!
Inside, it was, well, how can I say, ever so slightly "I have been here before" as it was exactly like every other tropical glass house: concrete faked up (very well) to look like stone, a huge fake waterfall, enormous banana leaves reaching to the roof, the usual selection of exotics that I will never grow myself, and a feeling of "blimey, has it turned cold out here now?" when you leave.
But it's still impressive, and the sort of place you should take small children, to give them a lasting memory of something very different.
The nearness of the A3/M25 was not a particular feature until we ventured over to the Trial Beds - we were walking through a very pleasant wooded section, climbing gently, and we gradually became aware that we could hear road noise. By the time we crested the ridge, it was intrusively loud, although we couldn't see the road for the trees.
Memo to self: if you ever live within spitting distance of the M25, an earthen barrier at least 60' high is required to deflect the noise.
However, the Trail Beds - below - were well worth the noise. This is the area where the RHS carry out the famous trials on plants: they have long, long beds ranged across a gentle slope, so the plants all get the same amount of sun, rain, wind etc.
Presumably they also get the same amount of pollution?
Selections of the plants being tested are planted out, and very clearly labelled, and at the end of the test, those that perform best are given awards. Presumably those that perform poorly are unceremoniously thrown onto the compost heaps and never mentioned again.
I would want to learn about germination and propagation rates, in a more organised way than my current method of writing it down in my notebook if I remember, and updating the notebook if I can find it at the right moment.... I'd also like to do trials on weedkilling methods, there are so many old wives' tales about how and when to apply them that I would like to try it out for myself, properly.
Also various slug repellents: I have some theories on that subject. Also pruning - it would be fabulous to have a row of identical plants that I could prune in various ways in order to compare the results.. it's not possible to do it properly in clients' gardens, as the conditions vary from year to year, which is the only comparison I can currently do. There are not many clients sufficiently obliging to let me prune two plants, situated close together, in radically different ways.....
It's also a great place to visit if you are thinking of, for example, buying some roses: they have so many of them there, that you can walk along the beds choosing the one that will turn out to be exactly the right height, size, colour, and perfume.
All in all, a great day out, and I will certainly be going back there at different times of the year.