RHS Wisley wins £4.8m lottery grant

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), with the award of a First Round Pass for a grant of £4.8 million towards its proposals to further enhance its flagship garden, RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey.

RHS/Clive Nichols
RHS/Clive Nichols

The RHS Garden Wisley project aims to "further develop the historic garden as the home of horticulture, including restoring its Grade II listed Laboratory to open it to the public for the first time and the creation of a new centre for Horticultural Science and Learning, which will disseminate horticultural research and learning nationwide".

The £212,000 has been awarded immediately to help the gardening charity develop its plans and apply for the full grant. The RHS will now work towards submitting a round-two application within two years, which if successful could lead to the award of the remaining £4.6 million. The total project will cost £65 million, and the RHS is working to raise £12.8 million through fundraising initiatives.

The grant would also support the fit-out of the ground floor of a new centre for horticultural science and learning, built on the garden’s Hilltop area, which will include a large scale atrium and events space for activities and exhibitions for the public, as well as new facilities for the nationally important Herbarium, science and library collections. Three new ‘Future Gardens’, exploring themes of Gardens as Nature Reserves, Health and Wellbeing and a World Kitchen Garden, will be created next to the Centre.

The third strand of the proposals involve the garden’s Herbarium, where over 80,000 specimens of plants of national and historical importance are kept, including a specimen collected by Charles Darwin on the Beagle, and the earliest item, a specimen of lavender collected in 1731. The grant would allow these specimens, as well as 23,000 insect specimens, to be restored, conserved and digitised as well as displayed to the public through events and exhibitions.

Sue Biggs, RHS Director General, said: "We are absolutely delighted to receive this initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is a strong endorsement of our plans to celebrate Wisley’s historical and horticultural significance, as well as making it a garden that is vibrant and relevant for the future. Our ambitious programme of fundraising still continues apace but this is a significant and joyous step forward in seeing our plans come to fruition.’

Visits to RHS Garden Wisley have increased over the past decade from 750,000 to over a million each year. The RHS has committed to creating better facilities in the Garden and in spring the world-class landscape architect Christopher Bradley-Hole unveiled his plans for developing the horticulture of this much-loved garden. The developments form part of a 10 year, £160m investment in the RHS’s vision to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.

Stuart McLeod, Head of HLF South East, said: "Wisley is such an important site in the history of plants and gardens – a superb setting for some rare and fascinating plant specimens along with thousands of books, artefacts and photographs. This project will help build on the traditions of the place to reach out and attract new visitors and ensure people come here to learn about and enjoy horticulture for many years to come."  

Designers have complained about lack of transparency into the appointment process.

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