Wisley's best kept secret

Visitors to the Wisley Garden Library will soon be able to enter Gardiners' House for the first time in more than 100 years

Gardiners' House next to the Garden entranceGardiners' House

Previously known as the Garden House, this building is one of the earliest built on the Wisley site by the RHS, pre-dating the iconic Laboratory Building (the Big House as most visitors call it). Soon visitors to the garden will be able to climb the stone steps, once guarded by a chain and private sign, and enter the building for the first time in more than a hundred years. Why not pop in as you pass by?

Designed to be located close to the entrance to the gardens and to be visible to visitors and members, the Gardiners' House will be a familiar sight to many.

Who lived here?

The house was built in 1904 as the residence for the Superintendent (later Director) of the Garden, and also to provide a meeting room for the RHS Council and a small office. This is why there were two front doors. The architect was most probably Edwin James Stubbs, who is known to have designed other buildings on the site as well as the RHS Lindley Hall in our headquarters at Vincent Square. The front elevation has a large panel with the crest of the RHS and is dated ‘1904’ under a pediment. The style is known as Queen Anne Revival and in the hierarchy of Wisley’s Edwardian buildings, it is more ornate than Aberconway Cottage, The Pines and the Director’s House in Wisley village.

Royal tea party

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on a royal visit led by Francis Hanger (Curator) and John Gilmour (Director) 11 May 1949. Credit RHS, Lindley LibraryAccess to the house used to be limited to the chosen few, even royalty on one occasion were barred entry (for a brief time at least). On 11 May 1949, following a private tour of the garden by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (parents of our current Queen), the royal party, led by Francis Hanger (Curator) and John Gilmour (Director), returned to Garden House for tea on the lawn to discover that they had been locked out by the two young Gilmour daughters. The sisters can be seen in the photograph of the incident (left), looking out of an upstairs window to see how much upset they had caused. They were allowed to join the tea party, but it is not recorded if they got into trouble later.

The house becomes a home

Interior of Gardiners' House before the redevelopment 2013. Credit RHS, The Architectural History PracticeIn the second half of the 20th century, the Council room ceased to be used for meetings and the room became part of the domestic accommodation. The second door was permanently closed and one of the two fireplaces in the Council room was blocked up.

Externally, the house has been little altered. It was still in residential use until last autumn when RHS Vice President, Jim Gardiner (previously Director of Horticulture and before that Wisley Garden Curator), retired.

Wisley Garden Library takes up residence

Magnolia in the garden at Gardiners' House 2017. Credit RHS, Gill BriggsSince the Garden Library first opened at Wisley in 1996, after RHS members voted for a library at both Wisley and London, it has been based in Aberconway House. Now as part of the Wisley Key Investment Project, this spring we are moving temporarily to a new home in the historic Gardiners’ House by the Garden entrance.
The Garden Library will be using rooms on the ground floor, including the old Council room, and accommodation at the rear of the house and on the upper floors will be staff offices.

We look forward to visitors coming to see us in our new home where we are open every day until 4pm

 More information


RHS Libraries

Exhibitions and events
The libraries hold exhibitions of photography, botanical art and more, along with talks and courses.
Library collections
As well as books and periodicals, discover, art, photos and archives. Open to all.
Library services
Our libraries can help with your academic research and provide access to digital resources too. RHS members can borrow from the thousands of gardening books held in the RHS Libraries.

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.