RHS Wisley – the centre of most west Surrey’s mums’ lives – is something I’ve truly discovered the value of since having kids. Yes, it’s a big garden, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a gardener nor know much about gardening to enjoy it on a sunny afternoon. Embarrassingly, when filling out the membership form you have to rate your level of gardening skills. That question made me blush with shame just reading it. I think I put intermediate, just to make myself feel a little better. I do have a garden; my local garden shop is a big fan of me as I buy and kill plants on a far too regular basis. I have killed pretty much every garden vegetable available in the northern hemisphere and my sad, decrepit hanging basket on the front of my house with its long-dead evergreens are a estimate to my killing ability. But, to be honest, as a mother, you don’t go to Wisley for plants. 90% of the people there couldn’t give a toss about plants. You go so that your kids can have a good run round, you can have a coffee/ice cream (delete as seasonally appropriate) with your fellow mummies who are also desperately, like you, trying to burn off enough of their kids’ energy to get them to have a much sought after, synchronised, afternoon nap to allow them to do thrilling things like unload the dishwasher or take out the ever-full bins.
Here’s Weasel last year – much more excited by all the fake butterflies on sticks and on stickers
What have I learned over the 3 years we’ve been going with kids?
– No prams are allowed in and pram parking is just next to the entrance. Take your carrier and remember to put it on UNDER or without your coat – otherwise you will bake. There is an ideal temperature for tropical butterflies and palm trees. Said temperature is not compatible with winter clothes + wellies + winter coat + sweaty baby whilst chasing a toddler.
– The queues are getting bigger and bigger. This year we had a 20 minute wait (at 10:30 on a Monday), couldn’t get in on a Saturday (judging by the Monday queue, the weekend queue was over an hour and a half long, outside in the freezing cold) and walked straight in (but only had 15 minutes before they closed) on another Monday at 3:45.
– They close early – the butterfly house stops letting people in at 4
-Save your chart! I’m sure they used to be free, now they charge 50p per sheet.
Baby Changing? Between the cafe and the glasshouse – ok but you can encounter queues. Other facilities are available just outside the entrance or next to the larger cafe.
Food: At either of the 2 cafes or obviously take a picnic in warmer weather. They can get uber-crowded, so I’d advise going for lunch at like 11. Don’t even think about getting a table in the ‘soft-play’ area at the cafe – crowded and as hot as the glasshouse, but I have heard rumours they’re building a larger one. Be prepared for the cost; it is not cheap. We get free milk from the cutlery area so at least we feel a little less hard done by.
Cost: Adults are £11.85, ages 5 through 16 is £5.10. There’s a discount for groups of 10, so you could always save some money if you go with your NCT group or something similar
Verdict: It’s a fun day out, but best tackled on a weekday to avoid the queues. Come prepared with carriers/easy-to-peel layers to avoid sweaty whinging kids and adults. It’s on until March the 3rd and of course next year if you don’t manage to get there before then.