RHS to open renovated ‘old lab’ to the public

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has turned its old laboratory into an interactive space for visitors to RHS Garden Wisley, which director general Clare Matterson says is becoming a “national treasure”.

The Grade-II listed building had been the home of RHS science for more than a century before its scientists relocated to the new RHS Hilltop in June 2020.

Purpose built as a laboratory and school of horticulture, the iconic RHS building now features exhibits for the public to follow the history of the site and its importance during World War II. Head of libraries Fiona Davidson adds how the exhibit showcases the variety of careers in the horticultural industry too.

A mock-up of a 1921 classroom, including old examination papers, makes up the Townsend Lecture Theatre, followed by the Advisory office. Here, the room highlights the role the RHS played in the war with the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign through which it offered advice to gardeners.

Experiments and the scientists behind them are showcased in the Wolfson Laboratory, including Dr Janaki Ammal, the first female scientist to be employed at Wisley. Items found in the attics took two years to catalogue before being displayed in this exhibit.

Visitors can also learn more about how plants were collected from all over the world and taken to Wisley to be grown on, such as lupin, sunflowers, lobelia, tulips, pampas grass and rhododendron.

The first room to be built for the Old Lab in 1907 is now the home of temporary exhibitions, three of which will take place per year. The first focuses on the role the royals have played with the RHS, displaying paintings signed by the royal family including three by the Queen Elizabeth II. This will be replaced by an exhibit on children’s gardening, followed by ‘What’s a weed?’.

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