Wisley lab transformed to tell its long history as the home of UK gardening science

  • Restored Grade II listed building with a striking new landscape will open to the public for the first time on 20 March 2023
  • For over a century, the Lab has been the home of RHS research and now everyone is invited in, to explore the history of its science and recreate experiments conducted there
  • A new exhibition space invites visitors to step back in time and a temporary display features the Queen Elizabeth II’s final royal signature

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
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Notes to editors

*All parts of the experience have been designed to be as accessible as possible, following guidance from the Centre for Accessible Environments physically accessible. Each room will have large print booklets and an audio induction. The space is designed with ‘Access and Inclusion’ in mind. An accessible lift has been fitted to allow people with mobility impairments to access the whole experience.

**The National Lottery Heritage Fund were the single biggest funder for the project providing a £4,140,000 grant to support the building restoration, historic landscaping, internal repairs and interpretation fit out, as well as the future programme of exhibitions and other public engagement activities as part of RHS Wisley’s ‘Inspiring People to Grow’ project. Other funders include the Wolfson Foundation who provided a grant for the restoration of the laboratory space within the building.

For further information please email [email protected].

About the RHS
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) was founded in 1804 and is the UK’s largest gardening charity.

The RHS vision is to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place via its inspirational gardens and shows, science research and advisory, extensive library collections and far-reaching education and community programmes. With over 600,000 members the RHS also shares its horticultural knowledge and expertise with millions of people every year through its website and publications.

In 2021, the RHS launched its Sustainability Strategy, committing to be net positive for nature and people by 2030. The supporting RHS Planet-Friendly Gardening Campaign will continue to harness the power of the UK’s 30 million gardeners to help tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis.

We are solely funded by our members, visitors and supporters.

For more information visit

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262

About The National Lottery Heritage Fund

Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future.
Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund 
Since The National Lottery began in 1994, National Lottery players have raised over £46billion for projects and more than 670,000 grants have been awarded across the UK - the equivalent of more than 240 lottery grants in every UK postcode district. More than £30 million raised each week goes to good causes across the UK.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.