New RHS exhibit celebrates UK’s first wild gardener

New RHS exhibit celebrates UK’s first wild gardener: The Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) exhibition William Robinson: The Wild Gardener opens on 16th May at RHS Garden Wisley.

Highlighting the work of one of the British Isles’ most influential horticulturists, the display will explore Robinson’s impact on the aesthetic of British gardens, and the pertinence of his gardening philosophy during an era of climate change.

New RHS exhibit celebrates UK's first wild gardener

New RHS exhibit celebrates UK’s first wild gardener

In the late 19th and early 20th century, challenging the Victorian trend of neat and formal gardens, William Robinson was a leading proponent of a naturalistic gardening style that uses hardy plants to create landscapes that mimic wild spaces. He was influential in the break away from the ‘bedding out’ system of creating formal flowerbeds using tender plants, instead embracing schemes with year-round colour and mixed textures.

Featuring letters between Robinson and influential figures of his day, including Charles Darwin, John Ruskin and Gertrude Jekyll, the exhibition will show how Robinson influenced, and was influenced by his contemporaries. It will also explore how his ideas reached a wide audience through his prolific career as an author, with displays of his books, including The Wild Garden and The English Flower Garden, as well as periodicals full of gardening advice, ideas and beautiful illustrations.

Botanical artworks of some of his favourite plants – such as foxgloves and marigolds – will feature in the exhibition, alongside works by his friend and collaborator, botanical artist Henry Moon. Also on display will be Robinson’s own gardening cloak – kindly loaned to the RHS by the Garden Museum – which he wore in his later years living at Gravetye.

Visitors to the exhibition at RHS Wisley will be able to learn about Robinson’s life and works before heading into the garden to explore the kind of landscapes he inspired and advocated, notably the Oakwood area of the garden, which Robinson himself visited, as well as Piet Oudolf’s newly reimagined Glasshouse Borders, which demonstrate the continued popularity of naturalistic planting styles.

Fiona Davison, RHS Head of Libraries and Exhibitions, said: “We are delighted to be putting on this exhibition which highlights William Robinson’s enduring influence in the world of horticulture. Through his pioneering approach to garden design, Robinson not only cultivated beautiful landscapes but also fostered a deeper connection to nature. His books, such as The Wild Garden, remain relevant today and this display will enable visitors to learn more about one of the early pioneers of sustainable gardening practices.”

The exhibition is in the RHS Wisley’s Old Laboratory from 16 May to 25 August 2025 and entry is included with admission to the garden.

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