Pouring rain was no deterrent to the many people who arrived to see Alan Titchmarsh officially open the new Welcome Building at RHS Wisley Garden on June 10th. Eight years in the planning (although it was being discussed long before that), the centre is designed to ease the free-flow of the 1.1m visitors who visit the garden annually.
The old Wilks Gates have now been closed and everyone who enters Wisley will do so by passing through an avenue of cherry trees (Prunus x yedoensis), which will provide masses of blossom in spring and attractive leaf colour in autumn. As he cut the floral swag across the entrance with (what else?) garden shears, Alan Titchmarsh commented that we all benefit from contact with nature, but our struggling local specialist plant nurseries need our support or they will not survive.
This is not an exaggeration, because it is a long time since horticulture was regarded in the UK with the same respect it is accorded everywhere else in the world. Considering gardening accounts for £1 of every £100 of household spending, supports around 570,000 jobs, contributes £5.4bn in tax and is worth £24.2bn to national GDP you would think it could be taken more seriously. Garden tourism alone brings in £2.9bn, because we have (or had, some are being destroyed) some of the finest parks, gardens and landscapes in the world.
By completely renewing the buildings at Wisley, including a 5000m2 Plant Centre that will stock plants from local nurseries, the RHS are future-proofing their flagship centre. Architects KSS (Nick Marshall, David Rollason and Jason Guthridge) designed the building using warm brick and English oak, but with air-source pumps that heat the floor and provide hot water to reduce dependency on oil. Andy Jasper, the Programme Director, oversaw the capture of water from the car park and roof to be filtered for use in the toilets and made sure energy use was reduced everywhere possible to keep costs down and be as environmentally minimal as possible.
The interior of the buildings, designed as a “walk through nature” by Gregor Jackson of GP Studio and RHS Head of Retail, Damian Powell, is light and airy thanks to large roof windows and open spaces. The RHS say that the design is such that there should be few, if any, queues to enter the garden now and the visitor is guided out into the rest of the “cherry avenue” quickly and easily. Whether this is still the case when there are 40+ coaches in the car park on a hot summer Sunday afternoon remains to be seen!
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