Beautiful Botanical Kew
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a fascinating collection of living plants, trees and shrubs, either ‘growing out’ in the vast parklands or in the historic glasshouses and nurseries.
It is the largest and most diverse collection in the world and London’s largest UNESCO World Heritage site.
A very short stroll from the botanical gardens, Kew itself has an English village feel with good pubs and coffee shops and a number of fine dining restaurants.
Getting there on the overground rail and tube networks is easy from central London, with a more leisurely riverboat service available during the summer months.
Founded in 1840, from an exotic garden that dated from 1759, the Kew collection includes over 30,000 different kinds of plants.
Its herbarium which is, needless to say, one of the world’s largest, has over seven million preserved plant specimens.
The horticultural library here has some 750,000 volumes with the illustrations collection containing more than 175,000 prints and drawings of plants.
There are four Grade I listed buildings and another 36 with a Grade II listing.
And all within 132 hectares (326 acres) of landscaped woodland, gardens and parkland.
But mere statistics can only whet the appetite for what one finds at the Royal Botanical Gardens.
Those with real interest in arboriculture, floriculture or botany can ‘dig’ deep into the growing, planting and maintenance regime.
The Royal Botanical Gardens also provides a safe and peaceful haven for family picnics while offering exploring exploits for school groups on field study trips.
Then there are those who spend a couple of hours with a good book under the shade of an overhanging tree or shrub.
The Royal Botanical Gardens can also be enjoyed at any time of day and during any season.
It’s therefore no wonder so many take advantage of the annual membership.
So whether there’s frost or even snow on the ground or spring in the air; a lazy hazy day of summer or during the golden brown of autumn, the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew always has something interesting and colourful to offer the visitor.
What to see and do
We arrived as the gates were opening on a gloriously sunny late spring morning and took a stroll through the Arboretum.
Covering over half of the gardens are many thousands of tree varieties, including some 2000 of the finest specimens native to the British Isles and a large number of unusual spaces from across the world.
On the expansive lake cygnets, ducklings and goslings were happily paddling around, issuing the odd quack and diving for food.
While the woodland areas are enticing for walkers, the Kew Explorer road train takes a circular route around the gardens for those who prefer a more leisurely visit. A commentary is provided by the driver and there are several stops.
Free tours of the gardens are also conducted daily by volunteers.
The Sackler Crossing Bridge is made of granite and bronze and designed as a sweeping double curve of black granite.
The sides of the bridge are formed of bronze posts that give the impression, from certain views of forming a solid wall.
From others, and to those on the bridge, the posts separate to allow a view through them of the water beyond.
The treetop walkway is always popular, especially with school groups.
At 18 metres high, it offers those wishing to take it, the chance to walk 200 metres through the tree canopy of lime, sweet chestnut and oak trees and to enjoy views of the gardens below.
The floor of the walkway is made from perforated metal which flexes when it is walked upon. The entire structure also sways in the wind.
The Plant Houses
The more exotic collections at the Royal Botanical Gardens are to be found in its plant houses.
The grand facade of Palm house, built between 1844–1848, is one of the main features at Kew.
Step inside and the steamy environment gives visitors the chance to experience the humidity of a tropical rainforest and discover the plants that thrive in these conditions.
Davies Alpine House and Rock Garden
Rare and unusual plants are housed in this arch shaped glass house, designed to recreate the cool, dry, windy conditions that these plants enjoy.
At any one time the Alpine House displays some 200 of the 7,000 plus collection of Alpine plants.
Princess of Wales Conservatory
The most complex of Kew’s public glasshouses contains ten different environments covering a range of tropical conditions and climatic zones.
Commemorating Princess Augusta, who founded the Gardens, it was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales, in July 1987.
Standing at 17 metres tall in a wildflower meadow, The Hive is a multi-sensory experience designed to highlight the extraordinary life of bees.
Marianne North Gallery
Marianne North was a remarkable and talented Victorian artist with a great eye for botanical detail.
In this extraordinary gallery, you can see 833 of her paintings displayed in geographical order, which she hung herself after travelling around the world.
Shirley Sherwood Gallery
Kew holds one of the world’s greatest collections of botanical art, with more than 200,000 items dating back to the days before photography could be used for the study of plants.
This gallery is the first to be dedicated to botanical art.
The Rose Garden
And finally there is the Rose garden, which is laid out according to plans dating from 1848, and has hundreds of rosebushes offering their subtle yet glorious scent and striking colour.
There is always something interesting to see and do at Kew. Whatever the weather or the season you will always come away wanting to go back to nature.