I can never go to England without visiting at least one garden. But when the only day available to see one is a rainy, cold day in mid-December, the options can be severely limited! RHS Wisley, the flagship garden of the Royal Horticultural Society, never disappoints, however, and is suitable for visits in any weather as they have a large glasshouse to go along with their gardens.
Wisley, located in Woking (just a few miles south west of central London), was given to the RHS in 1903, and since has become the hub of all things Horticultural, encompassing acres of trial gardens, model gardens that showcase different types of gardening situations, and areas where cultivation techniques are rigorously tested. Set up as a charity, its mission is to educate people and instill a love of gardening which it does through so many avenues that you are hardly aware that you are learning. Their monthly magazine, The Garden, is worth the price of membership all by itself, even if you never take advantage of the free admission to hundreds of gardens nationwide.
My visit in mid-December was wet and cold and the sort of day that only the insane, garden crazed types would find themselves out in. But it was still beautiful, as all well designed and well cared for gardens are. Outside, the red-twigged dogwoods were in their glory, lighting up the grayness with their vibrant stems. The grass was still green, and the Beech hedges, cut into rigid cylinders, stood like a row of proud soldiers, oblivious to the weather. The ‘bones” of the garden were such that there was order and beauty even without flowers.
All that said, it was nice to go into the glasshouse to dry off, absorb some color, and enjoy the rich warm smell of earth. There were numerous displays of succulents and tropical plants to enjoy, and for the holidays, they had created a display of Poinsettias of all different colors, arranged like Christmas trees. The Poinsetta being a Mexican native, legend has it that a little Mexican girl, ashamed that she had no gift for the Christ child, picked a handful of greenery by the side of the road and placed it beside the baby. In the morning, the plants had turned a bright red.
Red is the color that we most associate with the Poinsettia, but they also come in pink, white, and yellow, and some are even speckled! The colored parts are actually not flowers, at all, but are modified leaves called bracts; the flowers are the little, rather uninteresting green parts in the center. Introduced to the United States in 1825, the Poinsettia has since become an indisputable symbol of the holidays, as was proven by the festive displays at Wisley.
All in all, it was a great way to spend a rainy day.
In case you are wondering about how to care for your Poinsettia plants at home, here are some useful tips: Try to keep them warm, and give them indirect light. Don’t keep them in the window, as the proximity to the cold glass will damage them. Only water them when the soil feels dry, and don’t fertilize them while they are “flowering”.