Magical Glow at Garden Wisley

January 17, 2018
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Magical Christmas Glow at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

Christmas Glow exhibition at four-season RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

(Last updated November 2019)

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.

Winter Walk at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

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.

A field of cyclamen at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

A field of cyclamen

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.

Magical Christmas Glow at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

Lights shone from inside giant flowers, which appeared to be constructed from a type of canvas

Magical Christmas Glow at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

Magical Christmas Glow at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

Different coloured lights at ground level created interesting effects

Magical Christmas Glow at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

Glasshouse

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.

Magical Christmas Glow at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

Santa’s sleigh and reindeer

Magical Christmas Glow at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

Twig reindeer were “hidden” among the plants

Magical Christmas Glow at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

Coloured lights also created interesting effects in the Glasshouse

Magical Christmas Glow at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

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.

Rock garden at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

Rock garden

Henry Moore King and Queen sculpture at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

King and Queen bronze sculpture by Henry Moore. Six casts were made plus this one, the artist’s copy.

Laboratory at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

The Laboratory

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.

Magical Christmas Glow at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

I took in Christmas Glow in 2018. The 2019 show runs from December 7, 2019 to January 5, 2020. Wisley is worth visiting at any time of year. Its gardens 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.

RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey, England

“Butterflies in the Glasshouse” runs from mid-January to early March. My visit was a couple of weeks before that, but I spotted this butterfly already in the house.

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  • Reply
    Ken Dowell
    January 17, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Hardly looks like winter there. Maybe because I’m getting a snow covering today. Nice to see a little leftover holiday cheer.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      January 21, 2018 at 7:40 am

      Ken, winter also looks different than this at my home.

  • Reply
    Tag Along Deb
    January 17, 2018 at 11:40 am

    This looks so pretty! That shot of the Laboratory reminds me of the Pavilion at Assiniboine Park here in Winnipeg.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      January 21, 2018 at 7:44 am

      Deb, I had not made the connection before but there is a similarity between the Assiniboine Park Pavilion and Wisley Laboratory.

  • Reply
    RoseMary Griffith
    January 18, 2018 at 11:20 am

    Another great find during your Britain stay. The artistic flowers lit up at night are such fun and beautiful. I’d enjoy touring there, too.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      January 21, 2018 at 7:44 am

      Thanks RoseMary.

  • Reply
    Agness of a Tuk Tuk
    January 19, 2018 at 10:16 am

    RHS Garden Wisley seem so astonishing and breathtaking. This is the first time I am hearing about this place and I am definitely adding it to my bucket list, Donna! 😉

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      January 21, 2018 at 7:46 am

      Agness, Garden Wisley is good to visit at any time of year. I still remember a fantastic visit in summer time about twenty years ago.

  • Reply
    travelgalcindy
    February 14, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    This looks like a lot of fun! Like you, I’m usually not much for visiting northern gardens in the winter, but this does look like a good reason to make an exception!

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      February 17, 2018 at 8:14 am

      Cindy, I think it it a treat to find a garden worthy of visiting in winter.

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