The children at RHS Wisley
The children at RHS Wisley

By Tim Saunders

As we sit on a rustic wooden bench eating our picnic of tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches at RHS Wisley in Surrey, the ducks come to greet us. They are such a welcome sight.

In common with many attractions these days it’s necessary to book a slot when you expect to arrive in order to help the venue with crowd control. As it is only an hour or so away from home we anticipate arriving at 11am and get there for twenty past due to roadworks. An extremely popular attraction all ages and abilities are visiting. Hardly surprising when gardens are so good for us all, for our mental well being and all round general happiness. Social distancing is a bit of an issue at times though but the grounds are so vast it is easy to avoid people when outside. Funnily enough the day before we arrive, BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time came from here so it is a privilege to be able to visit what has become a national treasure. Speaking of national treasures, we spot a plant that was actually planted by Her Majesty.

It’s a hot day, too and Heidi (7) and Henry (4) quickly tire. We’ve been quite busy of late with kayaking, cycling and camping and it’s catching up on them. Not half an hour into our visit and Henry asks, “When can we go home?” Really frustrating but that’s children for you. An hour later and he has to sit on my shoulders to save his aching little legs, bless him. So Caroline takes my rucksack. “I’m hungry,” he moans. “Have you brought sweets?” He’s a joker. Caroline and I will have to make sure that when we go on such jaunts again that we take the pushchair and a trailer of provisions for our hungry little children. Thank goodness Harriett (9) is more grown up. She’s mesmerised by the beauty that surrounds her. It’s lovely to see.

In time the wonderful gardens and ever-changing landscape help Caroline and I with our struggles. When we spot the waterfalls Henry and Heidi suddenly shake off their lethargy and become far more enthusiastic and energetic. These transformed characters suddenly run up the steps and actually start enjoying themselves. Thank goodness for that. But they soon return to their old ways. So while Caroline, Henry and Heidi rest in a heap beside a tall beech tree, carefully cut into what looks to be a thick pole, along with a number of others near the lake, Harriett and I wander off to admire the bamboo in a shady area. While we are there we spot a magnificent blue dragonfly.

Before long the children find a wooden building that they call the witch’s lair and instantly run to it. Inside there is not a witch in sight but we do learn that this stunning garden was started by George Wilson, who offered it to the RHS in around 1870. Since then it has been packed with such a wide variety of flowers, shrubs and plants and there’s so much vibrant colour.

We ask one of the gardeners about horsetail, which we have been fighting in our own garden. “It’s been around since the dinosaurs,” he says. “We’ve tried to get rid of it here with electric heat guns and regular weeding but it always comes back. You’ll never get rid of it, which is why it’s been around since the dinosaurs!”

There’s a fabulous garden centre here, too as you might expect and visitors are able to buy some of the plants seen on the walk around Wisley. Caroline and I buy a superb hydrangea to celebrate our wedding anniversary. The children buy some succulents as a memory of their lovely day out. Henry spots one that reminds him of a dinosaur, which makes his day. The terracotta pots seem pretty good value, too.

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