As Wisley's Glasshouse celebrates its 10th anniversary, we look at what makes this iconic building special, and what the future holds.
Soaring to 12m high, the cathedral-like Glasshouse was built to celebrate the RHS Bicentenary. It covers an area equal in size to 10 tennis courts and is carefully computer controlled to maintain desired levels of light, heat and ventilation.
Designed by architect Peter van de Toorn Vrijthoff, the Glasshouse consists mainly of 11,000sq m of curved sheets of tempered glass, weighing a gargantuan 110 tonnes.
Since it was officially opened by the the Queen in June 2007, the Glasshouse has become as iconic a part of Wisley as the much-loved Laboratory building.
The Glasshouse is divided into three climatic zones: Temperate, Arid and Tropical, which are home to around 6,000 plant accessions. As the planting in the Glasshouse grew and flourished, headroom became an issue. In May 2013, the Glasshouse team successfully transplanted a majestic 4m specimen of Cyathea brownii (Norfolk Island tree fern) to a new location where there was more room for it to grow.
The Glasshouse is the ideal setting for Wisley’s world-class collection of glasshouse plants. In the Tropical Zone, minimum night temperatures of 20°C and a relative humidity of about 70% encourage rapid growth, huge leaves and extravagant, vividly hued flowers. The lush planting includes bananas, bromeliads, palm trees and fast-growing climbers.
The Glasshouse sits within a contemporary, sweeping landscape, originally laid out in 2007 by Tom Stuart-Smith. The dramatic, free-flowing beds display a wide range of herbaceous plants within a clipped beech structure. The green and lush scheme becomes more dry and arid towards the west, culminating in two prairie meadows laid out by Professor James Hitchmough - one features North American native plants, the other, South African plants.
Throughout the year the Glasshouse team creates spectacular temporary displays featuring plants of seasonal interest. In November, chrysanthemums are the focus: from cushions of Charm varieties to the impressive, firework-like flowers of Japanese and Chinese types, they make a colourful, impressive sight. To celebrate the Glasshouse's 10th birthday, we're creating some special '10 of the best' displays, as chosen by our horticulturists (March - Nov).
Tropical water lilies and other aquatic and wetland plants thrive in the warm jungle pool. The tropical climate in the Glasshouse provides the perfect showcase for many of the treasures of the plant kingdom, such as the remarkable jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) and the world’s smallest waterlily, Nymphaea thermarum.
Since 2008 the Glasshouse has been home to Butterflies in the Glasshouse, one of Wisley's most popular events. The butterflies feel right at home in the rainforest-like Tropical Zone, drifting among the foliage and flowers and resting on feeding stations where visitors can appreciate their spectacular colours up-close.
The Glasshouse also forms a spectacular focal point for Wisley's new Glow event, which sees the garden beautifully lit for the festive season. Coloured lights pick out the structure and the plants within, casting magical reflections on the surface of the lake.
Like all great gardens, the Glasshouse doesn’t stand still, and we are always looking to improve and evolve. One exciting new project is to develop the Glasshouse Gallery into an orchid house where we can display our large orchid collection, normally housed behind the scenes. We look forward to sharing it with you - and to another 10 years of inspiring displays in the Glasshouse.