Meet the ancestors

James meets the most venerable member of Wisley's plant collection, rumoured to have come originally from a Japanese Emperor

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RHS Gardening Podcast
Episode 115 (item starts at 13:55)

Grapevines at RHS garden at ChiswickGrapevines growing at the old RHS Garden at Chiswick. This picture was taken in 1901, three years before the Society’s move to Wisley, by which time conditions in industrialised London were unconducive to the cultivation of plants. Nothing remains of the garden today.

Chelsea Flower Show 1913
Samuel Wright (second from left) (1858-1922), the first Superintendent of Wisley, at the first Chelsea Flower Show in 1913. Wright oversaw the move of the RHS plant collection from the old garden in Chiswick and was the first member of staff on site at Wisley where he lived in the building now known as the Gardiner’s House. Upon his death the sundial that stands outside the Laboratory was erected as a lasting memorial of his dedicated service to the Society.

Rock Garden construction
A photograph from 1910 showing the Wisley Rock Garden under construction. The temporary tramways used to transport the tons of Sussex sandstone that form the basis of the garden can clearly be seen.

Larix kaempferi at Wisley
The Larix kaempferi growing on the Wisley Rock Garden which holds the distinction of being the oldest cultivated plant in the RHS collection. It is known that the plant was sent to the UK from Japan but the precise story of its origin is uncertain. Rumours have long persisted that it was a present from Emperor Meiji the Great.

Carter's catalogue 1916
A nursery catalogue, dated 1916, from James Carter & Co., seedsmen to the King, the firm that presented the Society with the specimen of Larix kaempferi, described in the Journal of the RHS in 1905 as a “pygmy larch”.

The exact reason for the gift is not known but it is likely it commemorated the move to Wisley.

Wisley Rock Garden, 1913
The Wisley Rock Garden in 1913, the year after its opening. The little larch can be seen at the bottom of the picture towards the left growing in the position it has occupied ever since.

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