Wisley gardens are one of my favourite places to go. Just a 20-minute drive from my home, they’re a regular destination. Normally – not in lockdown times – they have a terrific schedule of events and exhibitions and I’ve been there a lot with the family – to see an exhibition of life-sized safari animals made of Lego; huge dinosaur sculptures; butterflies in the Glasshouse; birds of prey displays. During the 3-months of lockdown, Wisley been one of the places I’ve really missed going to. But now it’s open again!
Just as for my visit to the reopened Kew Gardens, even as a RHS Member (which I and all the family are), it’s necessary to book an entry slot. Lyndsey organised it all and we were booked to go in between 2-3pm today. We arrived a bit after two and were surprised by how busy the large car park was – it took quite a while to find a space.
At the entrance we came first to a long queue for the Garden Centre & Shop, with the social distancing 2m marked out for people. Wisley’s garden centre is my favourite; it’s wonderful, both for the huge choice of plants and their fantastic quality. But there was no way I was going to join that queue after our visit!
The queue into the actual gardens wasn’t so long and also had 2m-markers indicating the space to leave between people.
The boys (5½ and 2½) were so excited to be back, recognising Wisley from previous outings. They were literally jumping for joy and rushing around.
Freddie wanted to go to see the bear. The bear – a large sculpture by a stream, catching a fish – was formally a thing of great fear. He was terrified when he first saw it and on subsequent trips we had to distract him so he didn’t see it. But since that time Freddie has discovered David Attenborough, loves wildlife programmes, and the bear is now a cause for excitement of a happy kind. He even knew the way to go, leading us up some steps towards the Jellicoe Canal and the iconic Laboratory building – such a recognisable feature of Wisley – and from there past the walled garden.
The walled garden has a wonderful display of ‘alternatives to box’ hedges.
There was also an amazing display of acers in the borders. As a family we’re a bit addicted to acers (don’t ask me why! We just love them) and the ones seen here and others in the Wisley gardens are glorious.
Walking along the path by the Alpine Meadow we saw the bear. The boys were so happy and excited and we stopped there for a while.
We cut through a path by the bear and into Oakwood, a lovely wooded area with little winding paths going through it. It was actually quite busy so we took the quietest routes. There was a lot of colour, which was a joy to see.
We looked at the Gunnera manicata – the giant’s rhubarb. It did indeed look like enormous rhubarb but I’m not at all sure it was rhubarb of the culinary kind!
Eventually we emerged from the woods to find ourselves facing the Glasshouse. During these socially distancing times, it’s closed but they’d put a lovely display of plants by the entrance.
There’s also a lake there with a few ducks to please the boys.
We started wandering up towards the arboretum but then decided we needed to head back to an open space for the boys to run around – and find coffee for ourselves!
We slowly made our way back towards the entrance and the Food Hall. That would be closed, but there were coffee stalls outside and we knew there was a big open space for the boys to run around.
We passed through Seven Acres and found a huge vegetable sculpture.
Then Freddie started running towards another of the lakes and the Japanese pagoda.
At the lake there were not just ducks but enormous fish swimming around, sometimes coming to the surface and opening their huge mouths. The boys thought this was wonderful but the anxious grandmother in me told them not to put their fingers near. The fish were coming right up to the edge and we could have easily touched them.
It’s a lovely peaceful area. I said to my son Jonathan how much I loved Wisley. I love Kew Gardens, but Wisley always seems much more intimate; a little more casual in the nicest way. Casual only in terms of how it feels to be there; the gardens are beautifully laid out and cared for and it’s one of the UK’s most famous and respected gardens. I always think of it being much smaller than Kew, but that must be because of the way it’s laid out as it’s 240 acres to Kew’s 300 acres – so smaller, but not massively so.
The grown-ups eventually got their coffee and we’d brought drinks for the boys and some banana and blueberry muffins I’d made in the morning. We sat down for a while having our snack before heading home. We’d been there for a couple of hours but planned (especially with our memberships) to go back again soon. It’s a great place for us to head to for a walk in nature and to get out of London, without it being a long trip.
Out through the exit and back towards the car park we spotted some tables set up with some plants for sale, with no need to queue for the garden centre to pay for them. It was a limited choice but I couldn’t resist buying a couple of things to bring home.
They’re now happily settled in my garden and will be a great reminder of a happy and lovely afternoon out with the family at Wisley.