World famous Wisley Garden kicks off PPA English tour
By Jimmy Williams
Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 8:03 pm
The following article is the first of a series of columns about a recent trip to England by Jimmy and Peggy Williams.
Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made,
by singing “Oh how beautiful,” and sitting in the shade.
Aug. 21, 9:30 a.m.
The “schrunch, schrunch” of tires meeting tarmac as our Boeing 757 touched down at Heathrow Airport marked the end of a bumpy seven-hour flight from Chicago. Anyone who can sleep in the cattle car of an airplane is either superhuman or subhuman.
We had boarded at Nashville, changed planes at O’Hare and endured hours of turbulence all across the Atlantic. We were two hours behind designated arrival, but had time to spare to meet 26 other participants to begin a 14-day tour of English gardens.
We — my assistant and I — were part of that tour, set up by the U.S. Perennial Plant Association. It would be our fourth of such tours to the British Isles during the past 19 years, and this time we would be roving across the south of England, between London and the English Channel, and even in the channel itself with a few days on the islands of Jersey and Guernsey.
Steven Still, executive director of the PPA, and his wife, Carolyn, set up the tours about every other year. Still is professor emeritus of horticulture at Ohio State University and one of the founders of the PPA.
The Stills’ expertise in organizing the logistics of the tours is nothing short of phenomenal, and over the years any glitches have been rare and of little consequence. How they get it done is beyond me.
Accommodations have always been first class, and entry to prestigious private gardens is due to their professional connections and long experience.
Most of the participants were nursery owners, garden designers, educators or curators of public gardens here in the U.S., but Israel and Canada were also represented. I was the only redneck aboard.
Friends Erbin and Ruth Baumgartner of Riceville and Larry Daniel of North Carolina could conceivably claim to be, though they are all far too sophisticated to qualify. None of them so much as even took a chaw of Beechnut terbaccy while we were there.
No time was wasted and by 1 p.m. we had all met up at a designated area in the massive airport and boarded a bus (“coach” there) to head for our first stop. If you’re going to see famous gardens you might as well start at the top.
Wisley is about 20 miles south of the heart of London and considered by many authorities to be the top public garden in the world.
We descended on the monstrous acreage, cameras in hand and despite lack of sleep for most of a day and night, I, remarkably, remember it, some four weeks later.
Wisley has everything, from massive twin perennial borders hundreds of yards long to alpine gardens, home gardening demonstrations, fruit orchards, water features, conifers, rare trees and shrubs and on ad infinitum.
We spent most of the afternoon there, and right off the bat, I got an idea for my own garden. We recently lost a 35-year-old golden rain tree smack in the middle of a rock garden and beside our deck. The thing just up and died.
What to do with the gap? The stump is some 20 inches in diameter and due to be removed. The alpine garden at Wisley had a recent addition that was built since our last visit. It consisted of slabs of jagged stone installed upright, not flat, leaving the impression of a miniature range of rocky mountains. Infilled with grit and minimum soil, the planting was just beginning and consisted of the tiniest of conifers, wee groundcovers, alpine perennials and even dwarf trees.
My gap is to be filled with a small copy of the one at Wisley, once I find enough slabs of sandstone and get them placed, hopefully just in time for fall planting.
We boarded our coach for the ride to Tunbridge Wells, 30 miles or so southeast, to unwind, get acquainted, enjoy a superb English dinner and rest up for the next day’s excitement at two of the most famous gardens in the world, Great Dixter and Sissinghurst. Stay tuned.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Nobody in England sits in the shade … or wants to when it is 60 degrees. That is just one reason all England is a garden.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 9.20.11