The beautiful ‘Old Laboratory’, an iconic part of RHS Garden Wisley, has been the centre of Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) science research for over a century, and from 20 March will open its doors to the public for the first time.
A theatrical, interactive and fully accessible* exhibition space will bring to life many of the hidden stories of Wisley’s past and show how the learning and experimentation that has taken place within its walls has shaped gardens and how we garden in the UK and around the world today.
RHS librarians have scoured archives, cupboards, storerooms and attics, uncovering fascinating material and stories along with many old scientific objects that will be on display including a machine for counting mites and a copper contraption for ‘boiling’ daffodil bulbs that effectively saved the popular flower form extinction.
Fiona Davison, RHS Head of Libraries, says: “We can’t wait to welcome everyone into this beautiful building for the very first time. The immersive and interactive displays shed light on how our gardens have evolved from formal Edwardian landscapes to more sustainably conscious spaces and the role the RHS has played in helping them to flourish.”
The permanent exhibition is split into a series of rooms each focusing on a theme and time in history, and some of the original architecture has been reinstated. Highlights include:
- The Townsend Lecture Theatre is a mock-up of a 1921 student classroom with microscopes, benches and a brass and mahogany magic lantern projector
- The Advisory Office is set in war-time Britain and depicts a busy office humming with the sound of typewriters and featuring ‘Dig for Victory’ material, informed by the RHS
- The Wolfson Laboratory explores many of the experiments conducted by students over the years, including pioneering female scientist, Dr Janaki Ammal who developed several hybrid crop species still grown today, including varieties of sugarcane
- Plant Collections focuses on a 1962 expedition to Iran, celebrates the role of indigenous communities and highlights the global nature of UK garden plants
- A temporary exhibition featuring a stunning collection of watercolours signed by the charity’s royal patrons includes Queen Elizabeth II’s final signature
Visitors will be able to try their hand at some of the experiments conducted by scientists in the past, such as examining the lifecycle of whitefly and manipulating chromosomes.
The project was made possible thanks to a £4million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and other generous donors, funders and RHS members.
Fiona adds: “We are so grateful to The National Lottery Heritage Fund and all our funders and members for supporting this project and enabling us to be able to inform, inspire and engage millions of people of all ages and backgrounds, for generations to come.”
Stuart McLeod, Director England - London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “The Old Laboratory is a hugely significant building for horticulture, heritage and learning. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, the next life for this building can now begin. The restored building and its new facilities will enable future generations to learn about Wisley’s importance and inspire them to become future champions for horticulture, biodiversity and nature.”
Advance booking is necessary and for more information visit rhs.org.uk/wisleylaboratory
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