A day at Wisley

Adrian Pickett reports on a very interesting visit to Wisley

Following the AGM, members enjoyed a most interesting talk by Amy Williams, RHS Collections Development Librarian. After an overview of this important collection of horticultural literature in the new Hilltop Centre Library, Amy focused on a selection of English and French rose books of great interest to rosarians.

Illustration of Rosa gallica

Rosa gallica var. Versicolor from ‘The genus Rosa’ by Ellen Willmott. Drawings by Alfred Parsons. Image credit: RHS Lindley Collections.

De historia stirpium commentarii insignes, published in Paris in 1542, was the oldest of these. The author, Leonard Fuchs, took 31 years to complete this account of over 500 plant species, including roses. From the huge collection of rose monographs held in the library, Genus Rosa, the exceptionally fine work by Ellen Wilmott (1914), deserves mention, as does Rosarum monographia: or a botanical history of roses by John Lindley (1820).

Then, too, there are the practical books such as Les insectes nuisibles aux rosiers sauvages & cultives en France by Emile Lucet (1900), showing that this has long been a working collection for staff and public alike. The library holds 27,000 nursery catalogues and even has a collection of books for the young!

The Hilltop Centre houses a major carefully maintained herbarium from which we saw a well-preserved specimen, collected at Mottisfont in 1988, of ‘Marbrée’, an old Portland rose, bred in France by Moreau et Robert in 1858.

After an excellent lunch, we toured the Hilltop Library and inspected some of the books Amy had described. It was a real pleasure to walk past comprehensive collections of periodicals and books and to see many horticulturists making good use of them in near perfect facilities. I was particularly drawn to the very large collection of flora from all over the world.

Tour of Wisley

Encouraged by a fine afternoon, our group then assembled for a rose-oriented tour of Wisley, led by our chairman Michael Marriott.

Naturally, the four-year trial of red roses, planted in 2021, drew considerable interest. Michael, noting that the roses had received regular irrigation, described how the roses were being challenged with a no treatment protocol, a prerequisite for identifying robust, disease-free varieties. Although certain entries, such as ‘Lovestruck’ (Dicommatac) from Dickson Roses, were showing good health, amongst those not up to the mark was ‘Roundelay’, a 1954 hybrid tea from the US. This trial, which has three or four assessments each year, will provide valuable data to guide choice. Unfortunately, not many red varieties are showing good fragrance.

Touring other parts of the garden, we saw the beautiful Rosa spinosissima ‘Dunwich Rose’ being used very effectively as a hedge. Then attention was drawn to the interesting Rosa roxburghii – f f. roxburghii, known as the ‘Chestnut Rose’ after the resemblance of its hips to chestnuts.

Discussion was prompted when a difference was noted in fragrance between David Austin’s ‘Susan Williams-Ellis’ (Ausquirk) and ‘Mayflower’ (Austilly), growing nearby. The former variety is a pure white sport of ‘Mayflower’. Thus it would appear that the mutation resulted in at least two characteristics being different from the parent, which is entirely possible.

One of the great benefits of these meetings is the ample opportunity they provide for rosarians to talk to friends old and new about the queen of flowers and exchange news. Altogether, a rewarding day leaving participants looking forward to the next meeting.