Butterflies and snowmen in one place? Only at RHS Wisley a couple of weeks ago when a light dusting of snow coincided with ‘butterflies in the glasshouse’ at the well known RHS gardens in Surrey. It was clear from arrival that a great number of visitors were expected, evident from the number of car-park attendants and the swarms of people at the entrance gate.
A SNOWY START
The snowfall was enough to have given the gardens a wintery topping which sadly did not stay for long, however some enterprising children still managed to make tiny snowmen! Driven by our need for a hearty breakfast, we headed straight for the garden ‘food hall’ where breakfast was being served. Wisley is blessed with really excellent caterers with all food prepared on the premises, including their delicious sandwiches. Our hearty breakfast boasted portions that would have been enough to share and fully sated, we set off through the grounds to explore the delights of the season.
THERE’S ALWAYS SOMETHING TO SEE, EVEN IN WINTER
In the ‘seven acres’ area beside the lake overlooked by a Japanese pergola we found the stark stems of rubus and cornus of varied hues twisting and bursting forth like fireworks beside the stillness of the water. In total contrast, the glasshouse, warm, vibrant and tropical was alive with activity, with lush greenery towering skywards and (sadly) queues and queues of people waiting to see the butterflies. Not wanting to waste time queueing (we had seen the butterflies last year) we moved on towards the Tom Stuart Smith glasshouse borders which look so good even in winter, and on to the Piet Oudolf inspired long borders (so lovely in late summer and yet so disappointing in winter) which lead towards the orchards on Battleston Hill.
A quick detour to the Alpine house, always a total delight and on this occasion even more so with the outdoor alpines looking very native, poking through a layer of snow! The alpine house never disappoints since the plants are changed frequently according to what is currently flowering and these tiny treasures greeted us jewel-like in their modest glasshouse. I loved the tiny iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ and the small but perfectly formed Hepaticas. Since our visit, the Alpine house has been graced with the presence of Michael Perry, plant hunter for Thompson & Morgan and aspiring TV presenter who has produced a number of short clips for the RHS highlighting the delights of the Alpine house.
SCENTED WINTER FLOWERING SHRUBS
A final walk around the woodland of Battleston Hill to take in the glorious subtle scent of Daphnes and to see the spidery colour of Hamamelis (Witch Hazel) had an added surprise of early magnolia buds appearing along with beautiful camellia and rhododendron flowers. I fear that the subsequent frosts will have damaged these poor plants which have flowered far too early.
It will be interesting to visit again soon to see how the Magnolias have fared following the frost, and of course to see Spring bursting forth – not long now, I think!