While Philip Haas’s large organic sculptures ‘The Four Seasons’ currently grace the forecourt of the Baker Museum in Naples, Florida, USA, maquettes of the same sculptures are here in Surrey, welcoming visitors to the newly-opened Welcome Centre at RHS Wisley, the first phase of an ambitious £160 million investment in the future of RHS Wisley for both visitors and scientific research.
The Welcome Centre, opened by Alan Titchmarsh this week, totally changes the dynamics of visiting Wisley. Spacious new landscaped areas – designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole around a rural town square – welcome visitors and enhance the setting of the original 1916 Arts & Crafts building, with visitors entering the gardens through a beautiful new avenue of cherry trees.
It is also fascinating to enter the gardens in a different location to that of the past, which gives an entirely different dynamic and encourages visitors to explore areas they may not have reached in the past.
Future plans include the new National Centre for Horticultural Science and Learning designed by Wilkinson Eyre and due to be opened in 2021, which will house around 70 researchers and scientists in state-of-the-art laboratories carrying out research into solutions for the environmental and other challenges that gardeners face today and into the future, while the current Arts & Crafts laboratory building will then be opened up to visitors who will explore the crucial role of scientific research that has always been at the heart of the RHS at Wisley.
These are exciting times for the RHS at Wisley, with a massive investment in its future, and 2019 also marks its first major sculptural art exhibition ‘Sculpture at Wisley 2019′, with work by Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick, Henry Bruce and Phillip King dotted across the landscape, while Tracey Emin’s neon ‘Meet Me In Heaven – I Will Wait For You’ awaits discovery as visitors move from the garden into the new, much expanded, shop and plant sales areas.
On my visit, I arrived fairly soon after RHS Wisley opened on a Saturday morning; by the time I left at lunchtime, it was a battle to find a car parking space, and from the comments I overhead from visitors old and young alike, the new Welcome Centre is a great success, so all looks well for the future.