A Trip to Wisley Gardens

This blog is the repository of many a home spun tale but none so strange as: The Curious Incident of the Narcoleptic Husband.

It’s a tale worth telling and tell it I did during a recent trip to the RHS garden at Wisley, with the husband and a couple of the sons (and one GF.)  Sitting within a walled garden, which gave off all kinds of Alice in Wonderland vibes (it would have been no surprise should the White Rabbit have popped his head around one of its many shrubs and bushes) not to mention the odd Victorian ghost passing through its walls – it was there, within its soporific charms, that I noticed the husband’s eyes closing behind the expensive aviation sunglasses he’d picked up for a song at a car boot sale.  We were all sitting on a couple of the many carved wooden seats dotted thoughtfully about all over Wisley gardens.  Behind us ivy hung from an imposing red brick wall; in the background the sound of a trickling waterfall broke through the monotony of the sweltering, humid air, as we rested from a couple of hours’ worth of traipsing about in scorching heat, more commonly felt in a desert.  Just the sort of conditions to induce a middle-aged nap in fact.  Which is where my sleepy tale came in.


The husband has an astonishing ability to fall asleep at a moment’s notice.  This has never caused me much concern until the night of the England v Croatia match during the World Cup.  Football is anathema to me but I suddenly found my own personal space (the lounge) invaded on the evening in question by the husband and son no.3, and the telly switched to the ‘it’s coming home!’ fever of the World Cup – the World Cup in which I’d previously had zero interest.

The lounge windows were all wide open due to the ongoing scary heat, as was every other window down the street.  As the match got going the husband began several chants, all of which were quite out of character, gems like:  ‘come on, get it in!’  ‘Oh my Gawd, what are you doing?!’  Oh, Oh, Ooohhhh Nooooo!!!!’   and finally ‘YYYYEEEESSSSSS!!!!!!’   when the Brits scored a goal.   Through our open windows there drifted similar chants from several houses across the road.

My hilarity radar blipped rapidly as the husband continued to shout at the telly (being he also usually has zero interest in football.)  After the first goal, every single time the Brits got anywhere near the Croatian goal the husband would rise from his chair and run to the TV screen, waving his arms at it, trying to push the football into the Croatian goal.

In other words the husband was invested, he was energised, he was wide awake, so imagine my and son no.3’s utter surprise on seeing the husband suddenly fast asleep in his chair, precisely one second after screaming at the TV.

This can’t be overstated enough.  A split second before he was comatose, the husband had been trying to break through the TV screen; he had looked nothing like somebody who is settling down for a gentle snooze and yet there he was, head rolled back, arms hanging over the arm rests, legs akimbo and loud snores emanating from his open mouth.  It was ASTONISHING.

I regaled all interested parties at Wisley (mainly myself) with this hilarious tale, in the manner of an actress who does her own stunt work; the running to the tv, the zonked out state in the armchair (the garden seat providing a good stand-in) before moving on to the next instance of narcolepsy, which bordered on something from the Twilight Zone.


A couple of days ago the husband was to be found texting a mate from his armchair.  Suddenly he stood up and was convulsed by laughter; clutching his stomach, face turning red, tears filling his eyes.  ‘What’s happened?’  I asked.  ‘Uh, Uh, Oh, I can’t, I can’t…..’ came the reply.  The husband was so consumed by hilarity that he’d lost the power of speech.  The hilarious turn of events was that the husband had been texting his mate about coming round and had finished with ‘okey dokey,’ pressing send before seeing that the autocorrect had changed it to ‘Ok Dork.’    This was enough to send the husband into spasms (and myself, being we have the same infantile sense of humour) but it wasn’t enough to halt the next narcoleptic episode.  For, in the time it took me to avert my attention back to my laptop, I suddenly detected the sound of gentle snoring.  And there the husband was, back in his chair, completely zonked out and, to add strangeness to strangeness, still chortling, only this time in his sleep.

Son no.2 suggested the husband may have a medical condition (which is to be hoped not, being he already has quite a few) which is why I rapidly researched Narcolepsy.  However, upon discussion with the husband, the answer appears to lie with his propensity to shove a pint of beer down his neck during any sporting event, or any time he’s relaxing in his chair.  The alcohol seems to induce SSS (sudden sleep syndrome) – a condition I may notify the BMJ about (pointing them to my own scholarly article) as possibly being related to Narcolepsy – being the ingestion of alcohol doesn’t produce the same effect in me at all.


Before the telling of my riveting tales within the atmospheric and secluded walled garden (I want a walled garden p-l-e-a-s-e) we had trudged round almost the entire Wisley garden estate.  Armed with my iPad, our tour had begun at an overspill car park (the place was packed) before walking past a lot of new building work.  This work is being funded by a £4 million National Lottery grant and includes a new National Centre for Horticultural Science and Learning, and a new welcome building for visitors, including a 100 seater restaurant and café (they’ve got our priorities right, thank goodness.)  The grade II listed laboratory building (built 1914-16) shown here:

wisley canal

will also be renovated to provide state of the art laboratory facilities and visitors will be allowed to look round the interior.

We paid £15.95 (inc. gift aid) a ticket – good value for what’s inside – and found ourselves at the side of the above building.  We then set off through a long, high metal archway, covered in climbing Wisteria (my first wow moment) arriving at the first of many lovely stone fountains.  One of these fountains had a few coins shimmering beneath its surface, so we lobbed a few of our own in, accompanied by my instructions to make a wish……..’please let me win the lottery,’  I urgently whispered inside my own head.  I could have gone with world peace, or a cure for cancer but a lottery win seemed somehow so much more pressing.

(As a side-note here I could also have gone with wishing away the husband’s autoimmune condition, but I took care of that some 10 years ago, by throwing another coin into a wishing well during a holiday at Centre Parcs.  ‘Please make the husband’s illness go away,’ I’d urgently, childishly and secretly whispered inside my own head (never telling the husband, as wishes should never be told – except on public blogs on the internet.)   A year later a wonder drug appeared which has effectively ‘cured’ the husband for the past 9 years (touch wood.)   Coincidence?  Was it more rationally down to years of careful research, by clever-clever science people, culminating at just the right moment, or that 2p coin I chucked in the face of fate?


We then meandered up a gently undulating slope which had been cleverly designed to look as though it went on forever and ever.  It was covered in surprisingly green grass, considering we’re probably approaching drought conditions, and marked with indented patterns of flowers.  To each side were borders filled with millions of plants, all conveniently named via black markers on sticks, so your average home garden enthusiast (not us) could take photos for reference.

grass flower

At the top was a modern statue, made from twisted metal, depicting a couple of gigantic tall dandelions with a fairy clinging to one of its stalks.  It was very effective and arresting and I took a couple of photos.

dandelion sculpture

Many paths diverged at the top of the slope and I spotted a classical style stone temple at the end of one and forced the sons and GF to sit inside it whilst I took a photo.

We wandered off past clumps of rhododendrons and other plants I can’t name, all interspersed with a stunning variety of tall trees.  If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about my journey into advanced middle-age, it’s that I’ve developed a most peculiar obsession with TREES.  ‘Oh, look at that tree over there!’  I will shout in your face.  I will force you to inspect its trunk and its bark and its leafy shade.  In short I know exactly how the tragic poet Joyce Kilmer (actually a man) felt when he penned:

 I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

And another thing.  The older I get, the younger I get.  For instance, I squealed in delight at a measly bit of water coming out of a sculpted fish’s mouth, in my precious walled garden.

wisley fish

I was further mesmerised by a kids show in a tent.  A very entertaining middle-aged bloke had brought along his troupe of fake, plastic dinosaurs and was instructing a bunch of kids on the ways of dinosaurs.  They were seated on rugs on the ground, while he messed around with a cute baby triceratops, which moved in a very clever fashion.  Its mouth could move on its own – some kind of remote control? – but most of its actions resulted from the man cleverly manipulating its head so that it appeared to be eating leaves etc on its own.  I would have stayed for the entire show but the rest of our party moved off, meaning I had to scarper in case I got lost, thus missing the promised entrance of the T-Rex.

dinosaurs wisley

The dinosaur theme was prevalent throughout the gardens, in the form of a life size dinosaur, sculpted from wood, hiding in the pine wood area (which we didn’t find, mainly ‘cos we didn’t read the entry sign on first going in);  in plants from the Jurassic era having been placed in amongst borders and inside the glasshouse; in a giant T-Rex head, hiding on a small island on one of the lakes.

t rex lake

I was enraptured by the bonsai tree avenue.  A short paved walkway, bordered on either side by hedges, with several bonsai trees resting on small plinths.  ‘Look, that one’s a forest!’  I squealed at son no.2.

bonsai tree

The trees ranged from 45 – 120 years old.


We had lunch at a BBQ outside the café near the glasshouse.  The beautiful glasshouse right beside a lake.

wisley glasshouse

I chose a massive hot dog with onion relish, which was revolting because it was a repugnant pink colour encased in a rubberised skin, but I should have known better, especially as I’ve been dieting for a couple of months.  The husband had a beef burger and was transported to heaven, being he’s also dieting and is feeling the pain.  The sons had chicken burgers and the GF the solitary veggie option.  And this is a brilliant thing about Wisley.

As mentioned before the car park was full to the rafters but, inside, we saw only a few other human beings, mingling with the plant life, as we made our way around Wisley’s 240 acres.  The BBQ queue was minimal, as was the ice cream van’s, and it was extraordinarily easy to get a seat outside, and inside either café.  Just the sort of outing I like – minimal crowds and easy noshing conditions.

There were too many wondrous sights to take in on a first visit, even if the husband did remark that we could probably get round the lot in 15 minutes.  But kudos to the husband, who drives for miles so I can get my weekend outing fix, at places he’d probably never otherwise set foot in.  But he enjoyed it just the same, even if he wilted considerably in the heat.


We finished up back at the grade II listed laboratory and its beautiful oblong canal (built in 1970) filled with water lilies.  It’s surprising how much of Wisley gardens was built within recent history.  There was then the obligatory trip to the gift shop, but I managed to control any urge to part with more money, once I’d seen the price tags.

Back at the car it was like getting inside an oven, but 45 minutes later we were home and the husband sat down in his chair and promptly fell asleep.


























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