The Canal at the entrance to the gardens
I’m feeling like a wet rag today and all because I had a lovely day out yesterday, going up to RHS Wisley gardens with a friend. We were terribly lucky with the weather; just one very heavy shower which sent everyone scuttling into the glasshouse. There’ve been many changes since I was last there, which my friend was eager to point out to me. The glasshouse is one, very effectively seeming to float on the lake, with grasses rippling around it and a rail which makes you feel you’re on the deck of a ship.
Our main aim was to look at the late summer perennial borders: the massive double borders leading up to the Mount (currently a plastic-covered monstrosity) and the huge curving borders winding up to a view of the glasshouse and lake below. Unfortunately, all my distance shots have turned out to be rubbish (I need a camera tutorial) so you’ll have to look here for the wider picture. The planting has been heavily influenced by the European ‘new perennial’ movement, especially the work of Piet Oudolf . (Do look at this, it’s beautiful.) Key plants are placed in large blocks and repeated, the whole interplanted with grasses. Here, massive stands of purple eupatorium make a background for dark red echinacea (Cone Flower), tawny heleniums, the darkest sedums, even darker sanguisorba and the better forms of Origanum.
I have reservations about this style. It can be very sombre and I’ve seen gardens where the overall effect is so *brown* that to me the whole border looks dead. At Wisley the effect is lightened by the use of airy, pale blue spikes of Perovskia and some cunning placing of verbenas at the very front of the border. Then there are the grasses. I’m a well known grass sceptic, fond of saying that if you *want* your garden to look like a hay meadow, plant plenty of grasses. Fine in Europe, where hard winters make a pretty, frosted effect; a soggy mess in our climate. Some of the grasses at Wisley work very well indeed: those placed near water or on a slope where they are back-lit. Some are also irresistibly strokeable. You can have too much of a good thing, though.
The whole point of Wisley is of course horticultural excellence. I can’t think where else you could see such huge borders maintained to such a high standard. The soil preparation! The meticulous support network of pea sticks! The tying in! The dead heading! Clearing it all away at the end of the season! All this and perfect lawn edges, too. It’s all terribly labour intensive and almost impossible to achieve in a private garden.
It was a very mellow scene there yesterday, with the feeling of an old-fashioned park. This was because as well as all the grey heads, the obsessive photographers and the plant fanatics (me and H) there were lots of families with very young children. In spite of this, it was very quiet, even in the restaurant; all the children were frightfully well behaved. Perhaps one should expect this from children called Henry and Alice and little girls kitted out like their mother in Cath Kidston raincoats. I did take a photo of Happy Families playing the Victorian games but in view of the Data Protection act I won’t post it.
Now I’d better speed up the tour. In the glasshouse (not a patch on Kew, I have to say) there are some wonderful exotics.
Here’s a quirky sight by the lake. From a distance I thought these ‘bulrushes’ were bronze
but they’re actually willow. Very effectively placed. I saw many offensive sights: too many variegated plants which to my eyes looked horribly diseased; distressingly huge blocks of perilla and coleus; some truly horrible dahlias. But ah, the roses, the tender perennials, especially the gorgeous salvias, so beautifully cared for… I came away inspired to improve my garden.
Finally, an unusual specimen found in the alpine house.