Jan 7th 2013 marks the exciting beginnings for my second year at RHS Wisley. I am taking over custodianship of the Canal, Walled gardens, Conifer lawn and surround. For me, and I am sure many other families this is the quintessential vision of Wisley and one I have known of old.
Even today children were repeating the ritual of observing the carp in the lilied pond as I was aged 4 in 1985.
Here my brother Henry and I are standing a stones throw away from the Wisteria I am about to prune! I am even sporting the stylish Wisley Green with my hair a flash of red; untameable as ever.
So I have destiny on my side, but on less nostalgic note I have found my greatest grounding in this new role from my work to date in the Model Gardens at Wisley. The continual mend and make new of the home garden, which is challenging and stimulating has been exchanged for the haute couture of the gardening world, with climbers like jewels on north, south, east and west walls and bedding schemes to wow on a six month rotational show. This is the front stage and I want to share the experience with you.
Jan 25th 2012
The snow has held our work in a white sheet of suspense. The cold cloak cleans edges and blends boundaries helping you to see the structure of your garden. This is a perfect time to observe the patina of the landscape and plan the yearly changes and developments that make a living garden.
For me, here at Wisley the focus is also on discovery and as I am sure, if you have ever taken on a mature garden, you will understand the joy of discovering a hidden plant. A year presents many changes as bulbs and herbaceous plants appear. But there is something about the starkness of winter that helps you to focus on the usually blurred lines of the backdrop as the pruning eye glances over what winter jobs are waiting for you.
During this practical search I have found a gem of a tale that I want to share. A story of a Champion Tree (largest measured specimen in the UK). All of you who have been to Wisley have passed it, although I wonder how many keen eyes have noticed it? The Hippophae at the beginning of the Conifer Lawn opposite the sundial. The specimen tree has gnarled, dark brown bark and a twisted, scratchy silhouette on the sky. The tree itself strains away from the path towards the lilied waters of the Canal below. But its stems and extending growth reach out behind to catch unsuspecting passers-by on their way to the butterflies in the Glasshouse. This uninviting rebuff was the practical problem that put the Hippohphae in the spotlight.
Hippophae rhamnoides subsp. sinensis is a relative of the Uk native H. rhamnoides or sea buckthorn, though the genus is distributed all over the world. This variety of the genus is the only tree form; otherwise it is a sturdy coastal shrub with fine, silvery, lanceolate leaves and delicious looking, orange berries.
This is where the story becomes exciting our H. sinensis, a native of China and was sourced from Tibet in 1947 the same time as Heinrich Harrer (author of ‘Seven Years in Tibet’) was communing with the Dalai Lama. The Chinese threat was looming and some how a seed came to Surrey brought by Ludlow, Sherrif and Elliot? Here the trail dries up, but I will do more diggin’! But it is not just the history, there is an interesting modern challenge, as a dioecious plant it needs a partner to flower and fruit, the tree itself needs to be female to fruit but even so a partner sourced from the same region retracing the steps of past plant hunters, sounds like a tantalising dream.
This is where gardening becomes thrilling. Filling you with awe and wonder at nature as a living connection to our past. Some food for thought next time that ancient tree or shrub whacks you round the chops. Think as you selectively prune 'are you trying to tell me something?'