Of mice and men

More than a century after it was first planted, this diminutive relative of the giant Titan arum lives on in Wisley's Wild Garden

Arisarum proboscideum

George Fergusson WilsonListen to the podcast (item starts at 29:44)

The mouse plant, Arisarum proboscideum, was introduced to Wisley by George Fergusson Wilson (1822-1902). George  was one of thirteen children and prospered in the business of candle manufacturing. However, his great passion was gardening and he was a Treasurer of the RHS.

In 1878 he purchased the Oakwood Estate at Wisley and set about creating an experimental garden. Following his death the estate passed into the ownership of the RHS but much of the landscape he established is clearly recognisable today. By the early 1880s, the garden was already famed for its collections of irises and other plants.
Photograph of pond on the Oakwood & Glebe Farm Estate, Wisley 1903
Above: Oakwood (now Wisley) in 1903. Wilson mainly cultivated the area that became known as the Wild Garden and the 'Long Ponds' that remain a prominent feature at the foot of the Rock Garden. 
Below:, left: A specimen of Arisarum proboscideum collected from Wisley and held in the RHS Herbarium showing the bizarre attenuated spathes that make the plant so distinctive. Other plants introduced by Wilson that still survive are Narcissus cyclamineus and the very large Gunnera opposite the Rock Garden.

Herbarium specimen of Arisarum proboscideum Sir Thomas Hanbury

Above, right: A photograph of Sir Thomas Hanbury (1832-1907) taken shortly before his death. Hanbury made a fortune in China and established one of the most remarkable gardens on the Italian Riviera at his home, La Mortola. Following the death of George Fergusson Wilson he purchased the Oakwood Estate at Wisley and gifted it to the Royal Horticultural Society. His garden at La Mortola is still in existence and is now owned by the University of Genoa.


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