As we turned into RHS Wisley on a sunny Friday towards the end of half-term, I thought we had made a terrible mistake. While we queued to get into the overflow car park and watched legions of welly-booted sprogs marching towards the entrance, Mr Carrot suggested turning back and trying somewhere else. I pointed out that we were in the middle of Surrey in the school holidays and the sun was shining for the first time in weeks. Everywhere was going to be busy.
I am glad we persevered as despite the crowds, we had a lovely family day out – although garden visiting with the Little Weeds is never quite the relaxing affair I imagine. First stop a quick lunch in the heaving glasshouse cafe where I barked at Mr Carrot to grab the first available table, threw a random selection of self-service food onto a tray and made a mental note to bring our own sandwiches next time.
Next up the butterflies in the glasshouse. The sign said we would be queuing for 45 minutes, but it was more like 15. Wrapped up in our winter coats and woollies we soon started sweating in the tropical greenhouse. By the time we got to the butterflies I was staggering under the weight of cast off clothes, but it was worth it to see the beautiful giant butterflies in iridescent shades amongst the tropical plants.
Littlest Weed and his oldest sister were undeterred by more queues for the mud-based half-term children’s activities, but my sensitive Middle Weed had turned a shade of puce, so she and I went off to find a quieter spot. We climbed up the rock garden, past snowdrops, crocuses, hellebores and little purple ‘Scent Sation’ irises.
At the top of the hill we found a bench to rest on near the Bonsai walk – where Middle Weed perked up to see the ages of the miniature trees – amazing to think that some of them were planted before the Second World War!
The vegetable garden provided plenty of inspiration for our new raised beds – with rows of spinach, red chicory, brussel sprouts and the first shoots of rhubarb – and the alpine houses were filled with tiny colourful delights.
The others rejoined us for a hot chocolate and a whistle-stop tour of the formal gardens. As I was rushed through the ‘Enthusiast’s Garden’ I pledged to myself to return in adult-only company when the Little Weeds are safely ensconced at school.
But the main feeling I came away with after a sunny day wandering around expertly designed and tended gardens was a spark of renewed passion for being outdoors amongst plants after a long winter when the garden has not seemed that appealing.
On the way out, I bought three native primroses (Primula vulgaris), a bulb of Solent Wight garlic and some Arran Pilot early seed potatoes. The very next day – after placing the potatoes in an egg box on the windowsill to be chitted – I was out in our own garden, planting the primulas alongside our hellebores in the front garden for a woodland effect and sowing the garlic cloves in one of the new raised beds. Now I can’t wait to get going in our garden.