Christmas Glow exhibition at four-season RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England
RHS Garden Wisley lies between Cobham and Ripley in Surrey off the main London to Portsmouth Road. The garden, a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) property, houses one of the largest plant collections in the world. Covering 240 acres, Wisley contains a diverse collection of gardens. There are formal and informal gardens, Meditteranean terraces, herb, vegetable, and fruit gardens, roses, a rock garden, bonsai, conifers, and alpine meadows.
I don’t typically consider visiting gardens in the winter, but there is something to see at Wisley during every season, even in the winter. The Seven Acres area is home to a Winter Walk, where plants have been chosen for their winter colour, shape, structure, and scent. There are evergreens, irises, witch-hazels, and daphnes. Colorful dogwood and willow stems contrast with eerie white bramble stems. As I walked through the garden, a lovely floral fragrance surrounded me at times, but I never did figure out exactly what plant or plants it came from.
Pretty as the winter garden was, my main reason for visiting was to see the third annual Christmas Glow, a December event lighting up the night sky with giant flowers and illuminated trees. During this exhibition, the garden stayed open later than usual, until 8 pm, so visitors could experience the effects of the lights in the darkness. I arrived in the late afternoon and saw some of the garden in daylight and watched it transform as dusk settled.
The Glasshouse covers three climatic zones: tropical, moist temperate, and dry temperate. During Christmas Glow, it was also home to a Christmas tree competition with trees decorated by different schools and “Night Before Christmas” displays.
Garden Wisley was originally created as a 60-acre site by Victorian businessman George Ferguson Wilson in 1878. He established the “Oakwood Experimental Garden.” He died in 1902. Sir Thomas Hanbury, creator of the La Mortola Garden on the Italian Riveria, purchased the property and donated it to the Royal Horticultural Society the following year.
The arts and Crafts-style Laboratory was built in 1916. It has been a centre for training of horticultural students for decades. A restoration project to begin in 2018 will see the modern buildings attached to the 1916 facade removed and parts of the ground floor opened to the public with a re-developed lecture theatre and new exhibition space. Scientific work will move to a new centre on Wisley’s Hilltop. The restored building is expected to be unveiled in 2021.
Christmas Glow is now over until next year (assuming the show returns for a fourth year), but there are many other reasons to visit Wisley and its gardens as they change with the seasons. It is open every day except Christmas. Food is available at several eateries. Check the RHS Garden Wisley website for times, prices, and current events.
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