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RHS director Jim Gardiner on his perfect Surrey weekend

PUBLISHED: 17:57 07 January 2011 | UPDATED: 05:13 20 May 2014

RHS director Jim Gardiner on his perfect Surrey weekend

RHS director Jim Gardiner on his perfect Surrey weekend

Director of horticulture at the Royal Horticultural Society, Jim Gardiner has lived at the beautiful gardens at Wisley, near Woking, for more than 22 years. Here, writing exclusively for Surrey Life, he describes how he switches off (or whether living at Wisley means he eats, lives and breathes gardening…)

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2010


Coming from a family of engineers, I think it was a surprise to them that my real passion was horticulture, rather than following in my mother and father’s footsteps. But gardening has always been where my heart lay and I have had the best 22 years living in one of the most spectacular gardens in the world, RHS Wisley, near Woking – especially as I get to see first-hand how much enjoyment visitors get from coming here; something that gives me a great deal of pleasure every day of the year.

Indeed, I never really ‘switch off’, as my work is my passion, and on a Friday night, my wife Allison, who is usually rustling up a wonderful home-cooked meal in the kitchen, can find me tending to our garden as I still love to get my hands dirty. 

It is a ‘plantsman’s’ garden bringing together plants that are new to me and combining them with ‘old friends’ that we have grown for many years. After dinner, we both settle down to Gardeners’ World over a few glasses of wine and to see what is happening in the horticultural world outside the RHS.

A gardener’s world
The weekends always consist of seeing family and friends. If it’s a weekend when I see our daughter Jilly and grandson Leo, who has just turned three, we usually spend some time together pottering about in the garden; we recently potted up plants together that he gave to his nursery school teachers as a ‘thank you’, much to mine and I’m sure the teachers’ delight.

I love being outdoors and so we often find ourselves walking in the Surrey Hills, the cowslip meadow at Sheepleas, heading out along the Wey Navigation, a beautiful stretch of water that is right on our doorstep, off to Painshill Park or simply walking through Wisley when there is no one else around, which is quite magical!

My wife and I don’t really eat out a lot so Saturday night is usually spent listening to music (I am a massive blues fan, so Eric Clapton – who is also a Surrey resident, features heavily in my playlists), entertaining friends or writing, either for my book on flowering shrubs or finishing the foreword for a book on Caerhays Castle. Alternatively, I spend time reading one of the many books I have on the go (I am never any good at reading something cover to cover).

On Sundays, we often make a trip to Brooklands Museum, a place very dear to my heart as not only do I love motor sport racing (in all forms, probably due to my parents’ and now son’s engineering career) but also because it houses my father’s motorbike (a 1927 AJS), which is on long-term loan to the museum. Depending on which Sunday it is, I always make sure I am home in time to watch the Formula 1 and Moto GP.

Then it’s time for a few phone calls, to catch up with friends who live around the UK, or sending e-mails around the world before bed. The next morning brings the shortest of commutes back to the office.

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