Surrey Life - - Garden -

Wis­ley is a cen­tre of ed­u­ca­tion for gar­den­ers of all ages, but how did it come about?

The Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety was given to Wis­ley in 1903. At that time only a small sec­tion of the 24 hectare pri­vate es­tate was gar­dened, the rest was wooded farm­land. The orig­i­nal gar­den was cre­ated by Ge­orge Fer­gus­son Wil­son, a for­mer Trea­surer of the So­ci­ety, sci­en­tist, in­ven­tor, busi­ness and gar­dener, who had pur­chased the prop­erty in 1878

Wil­son es­tab­lished the Oak­wood ex­per­i­men­tal gar­den with the aim of mak­ing “dif­fi­cult plants grow suc­cess­fully”, de­vel­op­ing over time im­pres­sive col­lec­tions of gen­tians, lilies, Ja­panese irises, prim­u­las and wa­ter plants. The Wild Gar­den is the di­rect de­scen­dant of Oak­wood and stays true to Wil­son’s orig­i­nal con­cept.

When Wil­son died in 1902, the gar­den and ad­join­ing farm were bought by Sir Thomas Han­bury, a wealthy Quaker who cre­ated the cel­e­brated La Mor­tola on the Ital­ian Riviera.

Sir Thomas gave the Wis­ley es­tate in trust to the RHS in 1903. The RHS had been look­ing for a larger gar­den beyond Lon­don to re­place the gar­den in Chiswick they had leased since 1822 and the tim­ing was per­fect; they moved to Wis­ley in time for their cen­te­nary in 1904. As well as de­vel­op­ing the gar­den and hav­ing tri­als of flow­ers, veg­eta­bles and fruit the RHS opened a small lab­o­ra­tory and the School of Hor­ti­cul­ture was founded.

To­day the gar­dens ex­tend to around 81 hectares and are renowned across the world for one of the largest plant col­lec­tions.

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