In the 20 years that I've been visiting, the gardens - and the facilities - have got better and better. There is much more emphasis today on landscape design - Tom Stuart Smith, Robert Myers, Piet Oudolf and Penelope Hobhouse are just a few of the names who have contributed - which means that although Wisley is still very much a show garden designed to cope with thousands of visitors, it has much more of a sense of place and less of the feeling of being a public park full of plant "exhibits".
So when my friend Helen said she wanted to go garden visiting and did I fancy Wisley, I said yes, please. Helen is such a knowledgeable plantswoman that any garden visit with her is a pleasure.
We set off from Gloucestershire on a cold, rainy morning, but by the time we arrived in Surrey, two hours later, the sun was shining. We'd piled the back seat of the car with an assortment of coats (really warm coats and really really warm coats) but it turned out that we didn't need any of them. It was gorgeous. The figures of the Henry Moore sculpture King and Queen, which is on temporary show at Wisley until the end of September, seemed almost to be basking in the sunshine.
"Is there much to see in a garden like Wisley at this time of year?" a non-gardening friend asked me when I got back. Are you kidding? There are the crocuses, and the hellebores, and the snowdrops, and the bare stems of cornus in colours ranging from yellow to dark red.
Helen wanted to see the Alpine House, which was a delight. There is something very satisfying about all those pretty little plants in their pristine little pots. It's like dolls-house gardening. If you look closely, you can see that all the vents of the glasshouse are open, but it was still too hot to stay in there for long. We spent the whole day saying to each other: "It's so hot!" When we had lunch, in the newly revamped British Food Hall, we were able to sit outside. At a table in the shade!
This bank is in the rock garden, where there were huge drifts of species crocuses, and other spring-flowering plants such as Cyclamen coum.
This grassy area next to the Walled Garden was incredibly colourful and many people were stopping to take pictures. It was quite difficult trying to photograph it without getting someone's shadow in the shot. Helen liked it, but I wasn't sure. I think Dutch hybrid crocuses can provide a good pop of colour just at the time when your spirits need a bit of a lift, and in many garden centres, they are all that you can buy, but I love the subtle colours of the C. tommasinianus cultivars or the original C. vernus vernus from which the Dutch hybrids are descended.
I love grasses, and I think the grass border at Wisley looks wonderful even in winter, when the stems are bleached and dry. I would never have thought of growing crocuses with them (I will now!), but I thought this was a wonderfully dramatic contrast between the soft, almost furry texture of the grasses and the vivid colour and neat shapes of the crocus flowers.
Another interesting idea was to plant crocus beneath cornus, where the flowers contrast well with the bare stems. I'm not sure about this combination of mauve and red, though. White would be better here, I think, while the pinky-purple would look fantastic with yellow stems, such as Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea'. But that's just my personal taste.
I love the way the trunk of this magnolia rises like a sculpture from a sea of crocus and snowdrops. The snowdrops are just starting to go over, but their foliage still looks good.
All in all, Wisley still gets top marks. I like the way the new food hall is organised, and the choice of food was good. (We had spinach and ricotta strudel with coleslaw and green salad.) It used to be a rather dreary place, with huge queues, and I can't even remember the last time I ate there before this week.
In recent years, the gardens have become a popular destination for mothers or nannies with young children, which is not always a good combination with keen gardeners. Indeed, I walked straight into a branch, much to Helen's amusement, while trying to pass a large group of pushchairs and meandering toddlers. We didn't even bother going to see the butterflies in the Glasshouse because the queue of small children and their accompanying adults was a mile long.
I think it's fantastic, however, that children - especially very little ones - can experience gardens as fun places to go. I'm sure it stays with them into later life and I wouldn't grudge them a day out at Wisley for a moment. But I'm glad the RHS is doing all it can to smooth the path of visitors in search of loos, or food, or cups of tea and cake.