RHS Garden Wisley’s houseplant exhibition is kooky and wry: an elaborate conceit. A Victorian house has been abandoned to the houseplants which, in the absence of humans, have made themselves at home.
An abundance of greenery may convey a derelict feel as visitors enter, but it soon becomes clear that everything is carefully arranged and tended. We’re visiting the best-behaved invasive houseplants in the history of mankind. My own ‘triffid’ is much less mannerly.
Soil that falls on the floor adopts an elaborate swirl pattern. Where plants spill (i.e. everywhere), they spill artfully. Visitors should prepare to see Instagram-ready vignettes wherever they lay their eyes.
Cacti have been repurposed as chess pieces and a pair of variegated Swiss cheese plants (Monstera deliciosa ‘Variegata’) are engaged in a game. A giant staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) is taking a bath while a plant pours down from a shower head. Vines are climbing bark-mulched stairs.
When we’ve heard experts talk about garden rooms, this was not what they meant.
There isn’t much cooking going on in the kitchen, which is liberally loaded with moss, hanging vegetation and insect-eating plants in a nod to the carnivorous lifestyles of many of us.
On the dining table, more carnivorous plants are set out in a silver tea pot, sugar bowl and milk jug on a tea tray. The feast includes a cake stand full of throat-threatening cupcakes.
Sitting at the table has become equally challenging for a human.
Victorian antiques add period character, such as this wooden board. I haven’t a clue what it is, as with most of the houseplants, but it looks great.
And there’s the point. I’m not confident that my lifestyle suits houseplants and, even if it did, I tend not to find them exciting. I do own a few, but none of them thrill me: some worry me; others make me feel guilty if I leave them for long. Despite all this, I found the exhibition fascinating, so much so that having gone round once, with a whole garden to see, we turned right round and went back in again.
Plants of all shapes, colours and sizes poke out, cover, cascade, lean, explore, creep and grow tall: this string-of-pearls plant (Senecio) appealed to me. I’m sure almost every visitor will see something they desire in this indoor garden folly, even those of us who find that gardening outdoors comes more easily.
For The Giant Houseplant Takeover exhibition is not just entertainment, but has a practical purpose. Sales of houseplants at Wisley’s plant centre have been soaring and the team want to maintain the momentum by encouraging us to loosen up our ideas when we choose containers for our houseplants, and inspiring us to grow more of them. Come to think of it, I do have a pair of shoes that has seen better days…
It all reminded me of seeing Little Shop of Horrors at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester some years ago where the baddie was a new breed of blood-eating plant, Audrey Two (has anyone seen their interpretation of Wuthering Heights yet?) Some events and exhibitions have an ability to live on in our imaginations though individuality of spirit and excess. I suspect this is one of them.
Information About The Giant Houseplant Takeover
Dates: the exhibition is on in the glasshouse at RHS Garden Wisley and runs through to 1st March 2020. Please double check details online or on social media before travelling, especially if the weather threatens to be bad. The garden had to close for Storm Ciara the day after our visit.
Prices: normal garden admission applies which means it’s free for RHS members. Non members can book online ahead of time for a 10% discount.
Hours: the garden opens at 9.30, the exhibition at 10; last entry to the exhibition is 3.45. Pre-booking a slot is recommended, although we didn’t.
For more information, visit the RHS website.