Published: 25 October 2012
RHS Wisley Society Open Day
We meet some of the important organisations and societies from around the country which are sharing their passion and knowledge in many different areas of horticulture and gardening.

The Wisley venue draws in the crowds to hear from the exhibitors
The crowds turned up in their thousands at RHS Wisley on the 5th October. This may have been just because it was a free access day, but hopefully many did turn up specifically to see the displays staged by the numerous societies in attendance at the ‘Society Open Day’ hosted by the RHS. Other similar events took place at each of the RHS gardens around the country.
What is so impressive when attending such events is the enthusiasm, dedication, and overwhelming amount of knowledge that the group members have. To a new gardener or those with a general interest in all things gardening this could all appear rather daunting, however each person manning the exhibits was there to impart their knowledge relating to their chosen plant speciality and the organisation which they were representing. The conversation began to flow freely and the noise levels rose rapidly by mid-morning - a sure sign everyone was sharing their enthusiasm with one another.

Plant Societies

The Bonsai Kai group had a small collection of bonsai plants to show what species could be used; Chris Durne was demonstrating the careful use of wire, creating a pleasing shape to a 15 year old specimen White Pine from his own collection. Club Secretary Ed Brown talked about the tradition of specimen bonsai plants being ‘passed down’ between members to ensure their survival when they were unable to be maintained for any number of reasons.


Chris Durne demonstrates wiring his
15 year old bonsai White pine

Martyn Denney inspects his show plants on
The Cyclamen Society display

Derek Spicer, the author of ‘The Encyclopedia of Confers’ [we have reviewed this superb publication recently] was on duty at The British Conifer Society exhibit. His knowledge is truly encyclopaedic for this amazing group of plants and he highlights the enthusiasm of the society’s members. The diversity and varying growth rates of conifers can be confusing and one of the society’s main goals is to promote the wider use of dwarf and ornamental varieties in gardens. It also helps with identification and correct nomenclature, propagation and seed exchanges plus regular meetings and visits to conifer collections in the UK and overseas.

The European Boxwood and Topiary Society is a truly international organisation with members spread far and wide. Its impressive, full colour publication has illustrations of great topiary collections from around the world and is part written in French.  UK Deputy Chairman Ian Gregory gave a definition of topiary as ‘creative pruning - it is not only the plant species but the working of it’. He also mentioned the work in hand to raise the awareness of topiary to a wider audience, including horticultural students.

Elizabeth & Ian Gregory on duty for The European Boxwood and Topiary Society
On the Cyclamen society stand I was introduced to Honorary Secretary Martyn Denney who explained the amazing variations between his specimen plants on show. He informed me of the scientific work being carried out at Reading University to validate correct taxonomy and identification of possible new Cyclamen species and hybrids, which can even include analysing the chromosome counts of selected plants. This Society also has an active global membership.      
The Plant Heritage stand was manned by Executive Officer Genevieve Melbourne Webb and Gill Groombridge, who has special interest in membership and conservation issues. They informed me that the organisation will celebrate its 35th anniversary next year by opening 35 gardens containing national collections. Plant Heritage is also raising the profile of a major conservation scheme it operates, the ‘Threatened Plants Project’.

Garden Societies

Julia Boulton is the editor of The Cottage Gardener magazine produced by The Cottage Garden Society. This incredibly active society has a range of publications for its members including ‘Gardens to Visit’ each year, Jam recipe fact sheets and ‘Members Seed Distribution ‘lists. The 2010/11 booklet contains over 1,600 different seed varieties available, all these are collected, processed and dispatched by members; this is another great story we will be investigating soon.

The Mediterranean Garden Society was founded in Greece in 1994 to encourage its now global membership to a better understanding and involvement in all things to do with gardens with a Mediterranean focus. One important aspect is the conservation and water usage in drier regions. Members also have many opportunities to travel on organised garden tours plus many are involved with conservation and education projects and the society’s seed exchanges.

Getting Involved


Gill Groombridge and Genevieve Melbourne Webb on the Plant Heritage stand

For all of us with an interest in horticulture these organisations play an invaluable part in gathering information, conserving plants, preserving gardens and most importantly sharing their findings with members, or indeed anyone who has a keen interest. The vast majority of each society’s work is carried out by volunteers. If we are not already involved as members with an organisation surely we can do something to support them. Without such groups our gardening experiences will be less fulfilling, but with them, the future for gardening looks good.

Listed below are some of the organisations in attendance at Wisley – more details are available by looking on their websites.
Image of Wisley house and gardens reproduced with kind permission of the RHS.
Reported by Chris Allen  

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