Resembling a half-timbered Tudor house, many visitors assume the attractive Laboratory is an old building, but it was actually built between 1914 and 1916 by architects Pine-Coffin, Imrie and Angell. Designed in the Arts and Crafts style, which emphasised craftsmanship in an age of industrialisation, it draws on local – often known as vernacular – architecture of surrounding buildings in Surrey.
Renowned architect Edwin Lutyens made this style famous while working with Gertrude Jekyll on Arts and Crafts houses and gardens in the area, including Jekyll’s home, Munstead Wood.
“Visually it’s the chimneys of Surrey that one remembers,” local architect Roderick Gradidge once commented, and it’s the huge chimneys, in a variety of shapes and sizes, which are the key defining feature of the Laboratory. However, these are for show only, as the building has central heating, an innovation at the time.
Other features include the large red tile roofs, tile and clapperboard wall hangings, half timbering with a plaster infill and oak-framed windows. The use of local materials helps the building fit into the landscape, with its muted heathland colours – the Laboratory almost appears to emerge organically from the ground. Touches of craftsmanship are seen in the door ironwork, oak-panelled entrance hall and superb stained glass depicting the seasons by Herbert Bryans. The majority of the inside, however, is plain and functional, reflecting a building built as a laboratory and not a house.
Present and future
Today, it still serves its original purpose as a base for RHS Scientists. Our Gardening Advice team is based here too, and answer around 90,000 members’ enquiries every year. Over the years, RHS scientists have worked on many key projects, including a treatment for Narcissus eelworm, the first biological control of glasshouse whitefly using parasitic wasps and, more recently, research into box blight and lily beetle.
The RHS’ £100m investment programme will see a new shop and entrance building in the next few years, which means the old shop obscuring the Laboratory will be cleared away, revealing even more of this fine building. A new science and education centre ("the UK's first dedicated scientific centre of excellence in horticultural taxonomy, plant health and horticultural science", no less) on the Hilltop, will also provide the scientists with more space, so that they can continue their vital work in new modern surroundings.
Plan a trip to RHS Garden Wisley
View highlights in the garden
Find out about the history of Wisley
Read more about developments at the gardens in the RHS Vision (2.1MB pdf)