In a monthly series in the RHS Gardening Podcast, botanist James Armitage explored some of the unusual and unsung stars of Wisley's plant collections
1. The strange case of the purple toothwort
James heads into the woods on the trail of a beautiful vampire, unearthing some surprising historical facts along the way.
2. Of mice and men
More than a century after it was first planted, a diminutive relative of the giant Titan arum lives on in Wisley's Wild Garden.
3. A peony with a rocky past
James re-lives the tale of a spectacular peony whose 60-year journey to Wisley spanned half the globe.
4. Ghosts of a vanished flora
Compiled more than a century ago, the first Wisley Flora painted a vivid picture of a now-vanished world. However, there are still new wild plants to be found in the garden.
5. The botanical British Leyland
A fusion of two conifers from the West Coast of America created a very British tree – one that perhaps deserves more respect than it currently receives...
6. The land-loving sea buckthorn
Chinese sea buckthorn, despite its name, hails from high mountains and grows well in the landlocked confines of Wisley, where it bears testament to one of the greatest plant-hunting partnerships of all time.
7. The riddle of the rowan
Now a common garden tree, its origins are shrouded in mystery. Sorbus 'Joseph Rock' defied classification for decades before becoming one of our most popular small trees.
8. Meet the ancestors
James unearths the history of an ancient larch tree – the oldest cultivated plant in the RHS collections – which has presided over the Rock Garden for more than a century.
9. A lucky chance
A humble bee did what man tried and failed to do, crossing two mahonia species to give us a much-loved classic garden plant.
10. A living fossil
From war-ravaged 1940s China a chance find emerged that was to stun the world. Metasequoia, the dawn redwood, was known only from fossils – and was thought to have been extinct for millions of years.
11. The widow-maker
With cones the size of chihuahuas and a lineage that stretches back to the time of the dinosaurs, Coulter's pine makes a big impression.
12. Welcome to the lunatic asylum
EA Bowles was one of the superstars of early 20th-century horticulture. But with fame and fortune came a strange obsession that still shapes gardens today.
About the contributor
James joined us as a botanist in 2002, straight from Reading University and he is now editor of The Plant Review. A future ambition is to help provide a complete catalogue of the cultivated plants of the British Isles.
“With garden plants there is always something new to discover,” he says. “It is the constant opportunity to learn that keeps my work so interesting.”