Easily accessed by car from Junction 10 of the M25, there is plenty of parking for parents and plenty of space for little explorers to run, jump and get closer to nature.
hatever the season, Wisley always has something to offer families and goes out of its way to provide excellent staffed and independent activities. At the entrance, younger visitors are encouraged to pick up seasonal activity cards and maps from the conveniently low access stand as well as recyclable collecting bags for storing their natural treasures. Colour coded Art, Science and Collecting Activity Cards also include great craft ideas for once you return home so that parents can continue to foster the appreciation of nature that Wisley strives to plant.
There is also a fabulous and colourful leaflet for younger visitors aged 3-8 to fill in as they explore which encourages them to find leaves and flowers of certain shapes and colours and to spot seasonal wildlife such as a bird singing in a tree or a busy bumblebee. There’s even space for them to show off their artistic talents with a drawing of who they’ve come to Wisley with! The large, simplified map of the gardens in the leaflet is also rather useful for parents to navigate their way round and to choose the areas that will most interest their little ones.
If, like my 2 year old Sophia, you are partial to feeding ducks, then the large lake near the main cafeteria provides plenty of grateful aquatic friends. If your pride and joys prefer romping and rolling around, then the Fruit Mount offers a wonderful slope to tumble down. And for those who are keen to learn more about how plants grow then the root tunnel in the Glasshouse provides lots of interactive media and plenty of accessible buttons for inquisitive youngsters to press. The sheer scale of some of the tropical trees and plants in the Glasshouse is bound to impress smaller visitors and outside there are swathes of spectacular summer colour and scent in the Rose Garden and Herb Gardens. All the areas are meticulously planted and planned to create a sensory feast for all the family.
On the subject of feasts, after filling up on the sights and fragrances of the gardens, Wisley once more caters for all tastes. There are two main cafeterias which offer a range of hot and cold self-service food and the requisite children’s lunch box selections for under 5 pounds. As well as main meals, the cafés also serve a mouthwatering selection of cakes as well as soup and sandwich options. Best of all, both sites have a microwave and milk and water dispensers, making catering for babies easy and acceptable. The main eatery also boasts a small additional room with a soft play area designed to allow you to eat your food in (relative) peace whilst the café near the Glasshouse also provides a screened off quiet area for mothers wanting to breastfeed more privately.
There are toilets and baby change facilities dotted throughout the gardens and near the restaurants but they are rather limited in number so be prepared for a surreptitious change behind the rhododendron bushes!
There are also two smaller cafés located by the shop near the entrance and by the Orchards, providing refreshing ice lollies and drinks for parched parents and sun-soaked toddlers. Regardless of how busy the place gets on a beautiful day, there is always a shady spot in which to relax and let your little ones run around barefoot and fancy-free. One of the pleasures of a summer’s day at Wisley must surely be sitting under one of their glorious trees with a picnic. It’s a wonderful place to meet up with friends and leave the daily busyness of parenting behind for a few hours. And throughout the summer, Wisley is even providing a selection of garden games on the lawn by the Walled Garden so why not introduce the whole family to the fun of croquet or skittles?
For children with even more energy to spare, Wisley offers a more natural and creative alternative to the traditional playground. Wild at Wisley is created out of the natural environment, with logs to climb on, over and under and fabulous tee-pees created out of waste bracken and tree branches. My two year old loved this area and busied herself happily for half an hour in the den area and feeding bark chippings to a log carved into the shape of a crocodile! It was a refreshing change from the ubiquitous swings and slides of the park and reminded me that despite the plethora of plastic toys and interactive gadgets on the market, children can have just as good a time, if not better, with a pile of sticks and some discarded vegetation!
What’s more, Wisley has a fabulous Olympic-themed programme running over the school summer holidays (21 July-31 August) that will link a combination of free staffed and independent activities to a different continent each week as a tribute to the Olympic Games. Daily activities include storytelling from around the world, sewing indigenous plants, and arts and crafts events as well as a spectacular Birds of Prey weekend on 18-19 August. A summer-long safari themed walk will also entice and encourage youngsters to discover animals and plants from around the world and best of all, all children under 15 will be able to get in to Wisley for free during this time.
It’s also worth visiting the Plant Centre and shop before you head home. There’s a small but thoughtful children’s section in the plant center selling miniature gardening equipment and specially selected fast germinating seeds to satisfy impatient mini Titchmarshs and the shop houses not only a selection of tempting gifts, cards and wrapping paper for adults, but an excellent array of best selling children’s books and audio CDs as well as the kind of stocking filler toys that all children love. All in all, I think you would be hard pressed not to enjoy a day out at Wisley this summer.
RHS members: Free
Adult: £11.55 (including Gift Aid)/£10.50 (excluding Gift Aid)
Child 5-16: Free between July 21- August 31. Usually £4.95 (including Gift Aid)/£4.50 (excluding Gift Aid)
Children 4 years & under: Free
Family 2+2 (2 adults and 2 children): £29.70 (including Gift Aid)/£27.00 (excluding Gift Aid)
Check website for details of daily summer programme