Wisley Gardens review
I thought I'd better go to Wisley before all the flowers start dying -- it's nearly winter now. The cold is coming. I don't want to go there and see a load of weeds and rotting autumn leaves, and a stack of sparrow bones on the lawn.
The first time I came here was about thirty years ago when I was still a kid. They used to hold open-air concerts by the lake (classical music, opera, that kind of thing) and I got dragged along by my parents. I am guessing that I didn't enjoy it very much, but the truth is that I can't remember. Actually, come to think of it... it might have been Claremont Gardens instead. Remind me to check whether there is a big lake in the middle when I get there... which will probably be in about five hours time, because this place is a pain to get to. They have built it in the middle of nowhere -- literally. The nearest train station is over four miles away (West Byfleet), and there are no buses to the park. The next closest station is Woking (7 miles), but that doesn't have any buses either. All it's got is one bus via Guildford and Surbiton (the 515), and that trundles up just once every hour. You would have thought that they would have laid on some better transport links seeing as it's a tourist attraction -- but no. If you want to come to Wisley then the best thing to do is buy a car and drive.
I ended up getting the bus, and it's a very difficult bus stop to spot if you've never been here before. You might want to enlist the help of the bus driver if you don't have a map to follow on your phone. You need to get off along a busy dual carriageway and cross over a giant motorway bridge. It's not exactly the prettiest of entrances to a horticultural garden.
I'm not much into plants myself, so I'm probably not the best guy to review a place like this. All I do at home is mow the lawn. I don't do any planting or pruning or any of that green-fingered stuff. The only plants that I can recognise are the ones that hurt -- nettles and roses. So when I look at a flower I am basically looking at the colour, and if I like the colour then I like the flower, simple as that. And my favourite colour is black.
When you walk through the gate you see a nice little scene. They've got an old Tudor-style house with manicured lawns, and waterspouts dropping down into a fish-filled pond. There are little benches dotted around as well, full of old people eating sandwiches. Unfortunately they don't let you go inside the actual house -- that's where they have their offices -- but it doesn't appear to have much history associated with it anyway; it was only built in 1915. It looks a few hundred years older than that though. That is what a new building should look like -- old.
I've been walking around for half-an-hour now and I think I've got the gist of the place. It's full of plants and trees that you've never seen. Trees with orange bark and ruby red leaves. Plants that are pink from head to toe, bright blues and purples too. Some of them look like they have had a pot of paint tipped on them. They've all got little labels around the base so you can check which is which, but of course they are all in Latin. Why do they do that? We are not Romans are we, and we don't speak ancient Italian. You don't go into B&Q and say can I have a box of Caragana Brevispina please. Doctors do that as well. And the Catholic church. They bamboozle you with classical language.
They've got a nice little pond in the middle where you can have a sit down and ponder the pointlessness of life. It's got some ducks and herons, and some noisy kids and a club of mums with six-wheel pushchairs. There are some big fat fish as well, that come up out of the water like beaching whales -- they literally flop up onto the pebbles like a circus seal with their mouths puffing in and out for oxygen. I am looking at one right now... he's fed up of living in the water. He doesn't want to be a fish anymore -- he's having a mid-life crisis. He wants to live on the land like me. You'll have to get some legs first, mate. Let's meet again in a million years when you've grown some feet.
A section of the park is done up like an Alpine forest -- the kind of pines that are fifty feet high, with a lollipop of green needles on top. The place is littered with pine cones on the carpet, and heather and mushrooms too -- big fat mushrooms about the same size as a skull. Obviously there are a lot of birds and squirrels running around. You can't escape nature in this place. I actually heard a bird say cock-a-doodle-do round here -- I thought they only did that in the cartoons. And there are millions and bazillions of little insects too. That is why I could never be a gardener: because I would be constantly at war with the wildlife. My advice is this: bring a newspaper with you so you can swat God's creations. Or bring a spare shoe so you can squash the bugs. The ladybirds are the worst. Lots of people think that ladybirds are cute, but they are not. When I see a ladybird coming, I run... I leg it. The ones at Wisley have got massive big teeth and the best thing to do is smash them up into little pieces before they can get the first bite in. Here is something strange: some of the ladybirds at Wisley are painted back to front. Instead of having black spots on red bodies, they have got red spots on black bodies. And that is not even a joke! It's as if they've put their coats on back to front.
Howard's Field and the Arboretum are definitely the best bits. I don't know who is in charge of those areas, but whoever it is should definitely get a pay-rise because that is some top-notch work he's doing. I don't know if his bosses are reading this, but if they are -- and I promise that I haven't got the faintest idea who this guy is, or what his name is, or whether he has got a big beard or not (he has) -- but basically what I am saying is that you should bump up his wages by an extra 10p a week (at least).
If you walk right round to the end then you'll find a little birdwatching hide, like the ones they've got at the London Wetland Centre. It's just a shed by a pond really, with a big window so you can watch the ducks doing nothing. The ducks float in the pond doing nothing, and middle-aged blokes stand at the window watching them. That is about as good a definition of birdwatching as you can get. You are supposed to chalk up what species you've seen on the blackboards, and some cheeky scamps have written dumb stuff like penguins, dodos, lions and tigers. If they were watching proper birds (women birds) then I could understand it. But feathered birds? If you stood there watching dogs and frogs all day, people would think you were a bit daft. But for some reason bird watching is considered fun.
My favourite part of a horticultural garden like Wisley is always the big greenhouse. (I don't think you are supposed to call it a greenhouse though -- you are supposed to call it a glasshouse.) Sometimes they've got a few fish tanks inside, but this one is all about the plants. It's nowhere near as big as the Palm House at Kew, but it's still worth a walk around. They've got a little underground exhibit inside, with TVs and push button displays, and the rainforest section is about as hot and humid as it can be without becoming uncomfortable. I am guessing that the greenhouse (sorry, the glasshouse) is probably the only exhibit in the whole place that your kids might want to see.
And that's about it. So this is how I would sum it up: It's a sunny Sunday afternoon kind of place. If you like flowers, or walking, then I reckon you'll enjoy it. And they've got quite a nice shop and a garden centre as well, if you're into that kind of thing.
P.S.: I never did find that lake... so I guess I must have been thinking of Claremont Gardens instead.
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