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An Interview with RHS Garden Wisley

Alexis Pym, Copyright RHS images

Looking for something to brighten up your evenings this festive season? Christmas Glow returns to RHS Garden Wisley this 1 December, illuminating one of the UK’s best-loved gardens with an array of coloured lights. We talk to Alexis Pym, Education and Learning Manager at Wisley, about the event and everything else going on at Wisley!

London Calling: The big event at RHS Garden Wisley this season is the Christmas Glow. For someone who didn’t come to last year’s Glow or maybe hasn’t heard of a Glow before, could you explain what it is and what to expect?
Alexis Pym: It’s a lovely way to explore the garden in winter. We’ve worked with an artist who has created 67 different flower sculptures, which are over 12-foot tall—some are even over 16-foot tall. They are dormant during the day, but from dusk onwards they really look amazing. There is a trail around the garden in eleven different locations, and then we’ve also up-lit some of our champion iconic trees. It’s a chance to see the garden in a completely different way.
LC: This isn’t the first time RHS Wisley has run a Christmas Glow. What’s new this year?
AP: So what’s new this year is that we have some lovely information about the trees – just explaining why they are championed trees. The big one – which I really like – is that there’s food. We’ve got eight different stalls selling cheese and fudge and sauces. We’ve also expanded our Stories with Santa. There is a bigger grotto and people can come in and decorate their gingerbread at the same time.
LC: There is a Light Switch On Parade on the 30 November, for which you are working with local schools – is that right?
AP: Yes, so this is more of a community event. We have been working with the Raleigh School. They’ve worked with us creating their own lanterns, and they are going to do a lantern parade through the garden with a lit up dragonfly and other structures. Santa and Mrs. Claus are very kindly coming in to lead the parade, and we’ve also invited the other three closest primary schools who are all coming in to the garden for free. Once they’ve come into the garden anyone in the local community can come in. After we’ve had the Light Switch On at 6.30pm, everyone comes in to see the Christmas lights until 8 o’clock and then there’s shopping until 8.30pm.

Christmas Glow, RHS Garden Wisley. Photo Credit: © RHS images
LC: With the big parade coming through and the lights as well, are there any precautions you’ve had to make regarding the plant life in the garden?
AP: We are very careful about where we go in the garden. We work very hard with the gardeners over the location of the plants. We’ve got a bed of giant daffodil lights, for instance, in the middle of the conifer lawn, so it’s fine for people to walk up to them. We work on special locations so people can get up close to the sculptures. There is also a gravel or tarmac path around the garden, so if it is snowing or raining people can still get round in pushchairs or wheelchairs. That’s a big part of it for us – that in the dark everyone can access the event.
LC: The Christmas Glow isn’t the only thing you are organising this year. You’ve also got the Songs and Stories with Santa. Again can you just describe what the event involves? What kinds of stories are you going to be telling? Can you tell us? Or is it a secret?
AP: Some of it is quite secret. We are trying to set up an event that is good for younger children and older children. For young children, we have a little story and they sing songs and they get a present from Santa – and it’s all based in the plant centre. And then for the older kids – really anyone over the age of 3 or 4 – we’re doing gingerbread decorations; we’re also making reindeer hats. Then they meet one of the elves and the elves take them on a walk back through the garden to the plant centre. The whole idea is to create something that works for children of all ages.

Alexis Pym, RHS Garden Wisley. Photo Credit: © RHS images
LC: There are lots of other things happening as Wisley this winter. There’s the Christmas Café, Christmas Crafts Fair, Christmas crafts Workshops, the Gingerbread house. If you had to pick out one that you were particularly looking forward to, what would that be?
AP: For me, it would probably be the winter walk – that really comes into its own around January and February. It’s a self-guided trail that takes about forty minutes that you can just do at your own pace. And it’s a different kind of walk to the garden: it’s very quiet and perfect for crisp winter days, as you get in January. Perfect if you want to walk off that roast chicken.
LC: The rest of the Wisley garden is open throughout day during the Christmas season. What highlights are there in the garden in these colder months?
AP: This is my favourite time of year. The winter colours really start to come in. The weather hasn’t been too bad yet, so we’ve still got a lot of autumn colour as well. We’ve got these unusual conifers that change colour in the winter – some beautiful pines that go really yellow, it looks almost as if they’ve been painted. There are also some places like the rock garden that give really iconic views of the garden.
The Christmas Glow runs from 1 December - 2 January, and is free for RHS members. RHS Garden Wisley can be found at Wisley Ln, Wisley, Woking GU23 6QB. More information on the garden and its events, including tickets for the Christmas Glow, can be found online.