Glasshouse - butterflies at RHS Wisley
Family days out, UK

Winter gardens and tropical butterflies at RHS Wisley

We couldn’t have picked a better place to visit during the January cold snap. RHS Wisley gave us the perfect balance of frozen landscapes and a thawing walk around this year’s butterfly event in its iconic Glasshouse.

Seeing the tropical butterflies at RHS Wisley is one of my recommended ways to beat the winter blues in the UK, so it was a must-see during our stay at Bel & The Dragon Inn in Surrey.

Wisley was handed into the care of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1903 after being used as an experimental garden for growing difficult planets for several decades. Trails and education remain important aspects of what happens at RHS Wisley today.

Visiting the tropical butterflies at RHS Wisley

At the beginning of each year RHS Wisley’s Glasshouse comes alive with more than 6,000 exotic butterflies. In 2017 there are 50 species  from areas of the world such as Central and South America and Southeast Asia. The Glasshouse’s Tropical Zone where they fly is designed to mimic the conditions of a rainforest.

We arrived an hour after the gardens opened and headed straight to the Glasshouse, admiring the frozen landscapes as we walked to the far end of the 60 acre grounds.

While the flower beds and borders have only a fraction of the foliage you would see in the spring and summer, there are still enchanting works of art to entertain you as you walk through the gardens. The special sculpture trail has been created by artist Alison Catchlove whose work centres around nature.

House and pond - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Looking at ice - Inside Glasshouse - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Frosty grounds - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Butterfly art - butterflies at RHS Wisley

RHS Wisley is obviously extremely popular with families at the weekends as the buggy park outside the Glasshouse was already brimming with pushchairs when we got there.

In the first half of the Glasshouse we saw two glass fronted cases where butterfly chrysalises were incubating. Tin Box Tot didn’t believe us when we explained that these hard looking pods would turn into beautiful butterflies. That was until we spotted a very young insect that had just emerged from its cocoon, drying its new wings. We walked on round the Glasshouse, admiring more art hanging from the roof. Then it was time to enter the Tropical Zone.

Looking at butterfly chrysalis - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Baby looking at a map - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Inside Glasshouse - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Butterfly art in Glasshouse - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Butterflies in the Glasshouse

We hadn’t felt the need to remove many layers until now but as soon as we walked through the plastic drapes, designed to keep the butterflies in, we hit a wall of heat.

Off came all our winter coats and I wished we’d left some of our outer layers with our pushchair. Between us Mr Tin Box and I got rather warm just carrying our discarded clothes.

The Tropical Zone was the most crowded part of RHS Wisley with people shuffling around the Glasshouse’s walkways and vying for the best spots to photograph the butterflies.

You can buy a Spotter Guide for £1 when you enter the Glasshouse to help you tick off the butterflies you see. We notched up a Glasswing and Giant Owl before becoming too absorbed in watching the insects fluttering all around us. Fifteen of the species have never been seen at RHS Wilsey before including Blue Waves, Giant Swallowtails and Tiger Leafing.

Tin Box Baby in Glasshouse - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Tin Box Baby and Tot - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Butterfly on flower - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Butterfly on fruit - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Tin Box girls - butterflies at RHS Wisley

The pretty and practical base layers worn by the Tin Box girls were sent to us by Three Bags Full – a New Zealand company specialising in 100% pure New Zealand merino sheep wool children’s and baby clothes. These helped keep them toasty warm under their coats in the frosty gardens and were cool enough to wear while we spotted butterflies in the steamy Glasshouse. They have become a firm favourite with the girls and I love knowing they are comfortable during our indoor and outdoor adventures.

Exploring the frozen gardens

Back outside we quickly pulled on our coats and began our walk back towards the entrance. It was like wandering through a winter wonderland. This was the coldest weekend I can remember in a long time. Tin Box Tot marvelled at the frosty lawns and enjoyed skidding around on frozen puddles. Even the ducks looked at bit bemused.

The gardens are home to one of the largest collections of plants in the world. While we weren’t able to fully appreciate them during our winter visit, there was so much open space for the girls to run around. It would be great to return in the warmer months to explore the different planted areas of Wisley in all their colourful and perfumed glory.

Frozen lake - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Pagoda - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Ducks on frozen pond - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Tin Box Tot looking at frost - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Sculptures overlooking pond - butterflies at RHS Wisley

House - butterflies at RHS Wisley

Visit RHS Wisley this half term

During February Half Term (11-19 February, 2017) there will be a range of family events at RHS Wisley. Events are included in the standard entrance fee. Check the website for details and save 10% on entry by booking tickets online.

RHS Wisley’s butterfly event continues until 5 March.

Disclosure: we were invited to visit the butterflies at RHS Wisley in exchange for a review. All views are my own and those of my family. We were also sent the girls’ Three Bags Full outfits in exchange for a mention on the blog. 

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A visit to RHS Wisley in Surrey to see the butterfly event in the Glasshouse