When a friend in London suggested spending time at Kew Gardens we jumped at the chance. What a great opportunity to discover our inner Darwin!
Kew Gardens is comprised of 326 acres featuring 40 000 varieties of plants and 40 buildings of historical significance. I suppose you can say there are 40 040 reasons to visit! Kew contains the most diverse collection of living plants of any botanic garden in the world. It’s a living collection grown and maintained for research, conservation, education, and ornamental displays. I can’t imagine what kind of staff may be required to keep the grounds so well maintained! Since 1759 Kew has been something of an oasis in the City of London, a large green surrounded on 3 sides by the city and the Thames running along the North side.
Due to its magnitude, it’s impossible to take everything in in just one visit. But with a bit of forethought, you can certainly plan out a visit suitable to your interests. Rhododendrons or roses? Azeleas or magnolias? Visit “blindly” but you’re certain to miss something that would appeal to you.
The Treetop Walkway
We planned our visit on what turned out to be the hottest, haziest day of summer, There was plenty of welcome shade though as we strolled the lush landscape, breathing in the sweet fragrance of nature.
A big attraction at the Gardens is the Treetop Walkway. Designed by the same architects who designed the London Eye, the walkway allows you climb 18 metres for a stroll through the treetops. It’s a bit unnerving but well worth tackling the stairs for an incredible experience. If you have mobility difficulties there is a lift that will give you access.
The Japanese Landscape
From the Walkway, the Great Pagoda is nearby. Unfortunately the structure was undergoing renovations at the time of our visit. Built in 1762 the 10 story pagoda is a Gardens landmark. Wrapped in scaffolding on all sides all the way to the top, we could only guess what might be going on inside. We did however enjoy the Garden of Activity, the Garden of Peace and the Garden of Harmony that comprise the Japanese Landscape. The Landscape’s centrepiece is the finely crafted Japanese Gateway built in 1910. Quiet and peaceful, it’s a nice area to contemplate life.
Queen Charlotte’s Cottage
Strolling the grounds at our leisure, we made our way to Queen Charlotte’s Cottage which boasts London’s finest bluebell woods, dating back over 800 years. The grandeur of this building makes this a cottage in the royal sense. The Georgian Royal family stopped using this private retreat in 1818. Later in 1898, Queen Victoria ceded the cottage to Kew to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee.
Somewhere along our walk, we were stunned to see a family of gold pheasants crossing our path. Naturally there is a healthy amount of wildlife within the gardens, and these stunning birds stopped foot traffic with their appearance.
The Orangery And Rock Garden
We eventually found the Orangery. In the brilliant sunshine, this white building seemed to glow. We paused for a well needed rest and a refreshment. A few steps away are the 400 year old Kew Palace as well as the Queen’s Gardens.
Up to this point, we had walked through vast wooded spaces. But from the Orangery the exhibitions seem more compact and frequent as we more or less headed toward the Victoria Gate exit. We meandered the Rock Garden with its lovely waterfall. Dating from 1882, the Rock Garden represents mountain plants from 6 major regions. There is much inspiration here for home gardeners! The Davies Alpine House is an interesting structure housing a nursery of alpine flowers.
From here, you can’t miss the eye-popping Princess of Wales Conservatory. Commemorating Princess Augusta who founded the Gardens, this glasshouse was opened by Diana the Princess of Wales in the summer of 1987. This massive structure contains 10 different environments from wet tropics to arid lands. Naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough buried a time capsule containing seeds of basic and endangered food crops in 1985. It is due to be opened in 2085, at which point some of the plants the capsule contains may be rare or extinct.
The Palm House And Pond
From here you’ll soon encounter what is likely Kew’s most recognisable building, the eye-catching Palm House. Built in 1844, The Palm House was designed to house plants brought back by Victorian explorers following their tropical adventures. No one had built a glasshouse on this scale before, so the architects borrowed techniques from ship builders, which may explain why the building looks like the upturned hull of a ship.
Outside is The Pond with its fountain statue of Hercules wrestling the river god Achelous. Hercules originally stood at Windsor Castle before being welcomed at Kew in 1963. Surrounding the pond you can’t help but notice the ‘Queen’s Beasts’, replicas of sculptures that stood at the entrance of Westminster Abbey during Her Majesty’s coronation in 1953.
For all the highlights of our visit, we still missed an awful lot. We were exhausted as we left the Gardens. Afterward over dinner, we couldn’t help but discuss our favorite bits, and imagined how Kew Gardens may look in autumn. A return visit with fall colours in full bloom would be a completely different experience!
Even if you don’t know much about gardening, or botany, or architecture… it’s well worth spending a day. It was pleasant to see families enjoying picnics and spending a lazy afternoon in this slice of paradise. The hustle and bustle of the city around us was non-existant. Kew Gardens is a truly entertaining way to broaden your knowledge of the world around you. A world that more than ever, humans need to be in tune with.
The easiest way to get to Kew Gardens is by using London’s public transit. The Overground and the tube’s District line both stop 2 blocks away at Kew Station. This gives you quick, worry free access to the Gardens via Victoria Gate.
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Mike & Dianne