The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consists of 300 acres (132 hectares) of landscaped gardens and grounds. Within the grounds are 40 listed buildings and other structures. These include the Palm House, Temperate House, Orangery, the Pagoda, Queen Charlotte's Cottage, and Kew Palace. A Brief Tour of some of Kew Garden’s Highlights
The gardens have an outstanding living collection of plants and a world-class herbarium. Scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation, and sustainable development in the UK is an important educational function. There are 2000 endangered species and 14 that are extinct in the wild.
In the spring millions of spring bulbs, the bluebell wood, trees in blossom, rhododendrons and azaleas in bloom and spring bedding displays are highlights. In summer the outdoor gardens and glasshouses reflect the height of the blooming season. In autumn berries, ornamental grasses, holly, and coloured leaves add vibrancy. Wintertime brings Christmas roses, snowdrops and winter-flowering clematis, scented wintersweet and witch hazels and warm glasshouses to spend time in.
There are four gates available for entry into Kew gardens: the Main gate, Victoria gate, Brentford gate, and Lion gate. Which one you enter by depends on which transportation you take and where you get off. We recommend the Victoria gate as it is the largest with the most facilities and is nearest the Palm House. There is an excellent Day Planner available on their website. It is downloadable and printable and has a map and all the transport information you need. Allow about four hours for your visit. Guided walking tours go twice daily and there is a hop on, hop off explorer that makes the rounds. There are festivals and exhibitions that take place throughout the year. The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art is a new botanical art gallery opened in April 2008.
Climbers and Creepers is an indoor play zone for children 3–9. Free activities run during school holidays. In May 2008 a new attraction allows kids to climb high in the treetops and explore the roots of trees. Kids can also explore the underground tunnels of a giant badger sett and discover the Stag Beetle Loggery, home to the UK’s biggest native beetles. The Evolution House, also designed for children, takes them through the 3500 million years of plant evolution.
The Palm House, Temperate House, and the Princess of Wales Conservatory are Kew’s three main glasshouses and cover over four acres of floor space. They are home to the largest collection of exotic plants in the world.
Palm House The Grade I listed Palm house was built 1844-48 and is considered to be the world's most important surviving Victorian glass and iron structure. In the central section of this tropical rainforest environment are found the tall palms. Other sections are the America Zone, Africa zone, and the Asia, Australasia, Pacific zone.
Here are plants grown for their fruits, timber, spices, fibres, perfumes, and medicines. They include African oil palm, cocoa, rubber, bananas, coffee bushes, papaya, the rare triangle palm, double coconut palm, Caribbean palms, Mexican cycads, and parrot flowers. In the basement is the Marine Display which recreate four marine habitats that highlight the importance of their plants.
The Princess of Wales Conservatory This conservatory was named in honour of Augusta, Princess of Wales, who founded the gardens. Opened in 1987 by Diana, Princess of Wales, it has ten climatic computer controlled zones. The dry tropics and wet tropics are the two main ones. Some of the plants found in the Princess of Wales Conservatory are bananas, ginger, pineapples, Epiphytic orchids, and orchids
Waterlily House The Waterlily House, constructed in 1852, is also a classic listed building. At the time it was the widest single span glasshouse in the world. It is Kew’s hottest and most humid environment and is home to tropical ornamental aquatic plants and climbers. Here are Nymphaea waterlilies and a giant Victoria cruziana as well as sacred lotus, papyrus, gourds, loofah, and economically important plants that include rice, taro, bananas, manioc, sugar cane, and lemon grass.
Temperate House This is the world's largest surviving Victorian glass structure at 4880 square metres. The main centre block and the octagons at each end were built between 1859 and 1862. The end blocks were added between 1860 and 1899. It contains woody plants from around the world. Here are endangered island species propagated for reintroduction to their native lands, such as Hibiscus liliiflorus from Rodrigues Island and Trochetiopsis erthroxylon from St. Helena. Other plants on show are the date palm, tea, quinine, a citrus collection, fuchsias, salvias and brugmansias. An Australian collection includes 'kangaroo's paws'. On display is the world's largest indoor plant, the Chilean wine-palm. The rarest plant in Kew and one of the last in the world, a cycad (Encephalartos woodii) is found in the Temperate House.
Evolution House The Evolution House, designed especially for kids, is a walk through over 3,500 million years of plant evolution. It shows off the Silurian, Carboniferous, and Cretaceous periods and includes a coal swamp with giant clubmosses and horsetails from 300 million years ago, cycads from 200 million years ago, and conifers and flowering plants of today.
Alpine House The Alpine House has undergone several reincarnations from 1887 until 2006. The collection is highlighted on the exterior by a rock garden, which has a collection of alpines and bulbs.
Queen Charlotte's Cottage This was a wedding gift from George III to Queen Charlotte in 1761. Constructed in the cottage ornée style, its main use was as a shelter and dining space for the family. It became public in 1898 when Queen Victoria commemorated her Diamond Jubilee by gifting it and 37 acres surrounding it to Kew. The grounds have one of the best bluebell woods in the capital city.
Orangery This building was completed in 1761. Although designed to house orange trees, it didn’t provide enough light for them. It has been changed a number of times over the years and now houses a restaurant.
Japanese Minka This is a reconstructed 1900 Japanese wooden house with mud plastered walls and a thatched roof. It is a typical country house that existed until the mid 20th century.
Kew Palace This four-storey red brick house was built c1631 by a Dutchman. It was first used by the British royal family in 1728 and purchased in 1781 by George III. Queen Charlotte, died here in 1818. It was restored in 2006.
Pagoda & Pagoda Vista The ten storey octagonal pagoda, finished in 1762, reflects the mid 18th century English garden fashion for chinoiserie. At 163 feet in height, it provides far reaching views over the gardens. As it rises each of the ten storeys are one foot less in height and diameter from the ones below. The original building had roofs covered in iron plate with dragons carved from wood and gilded with real gold.
Broad Walk The Broad Walk was laid out in 1845-46 and served as part of the entrance to the gardens. From it three vistas radiate outwards. Today’s walk has sixteen semi-mature Atlantic cedars.
Woodland Garden This is a three layered garden with a canopy of oaks and birches at the top. Below this are deciduous shrubs (maples, rhododendrons and others), followed by ground cover that includes hellebores, primulas, Himalayan blue poppies and North American trilliums.
Temple of Aeolus The Grade II listed building dates from 1760-63 with a rebuilding in 1845. It once had a revolving seat.
Crocus carpet and Temple of Bellona There are 1.6 million crocuses, planted in 1987, located near the Temple of Bellona. The Temple of Bellona is named for the Roman goddess of war. Its architecture is Doric in style and it honours the British and Hanoverian regiments which distinguished themselves in the Seven Years' War (1756-63).
King William's Temple This stone building, dating from 1837, has Tuscan porticos and was constructed in honour of British military victories from Minden to Waterloo.
Mediterranean Garden This garden surrounds King William's Temple with a
collection of highly scented Mediterranean style shrubs, herbs, rock roses, and yuccas.
Cherry Walk This runs from the Palm House to the Temperate House and
Has a collection of 22 Japanese ornamental cherry trees that bloom in the spring. It was planted in 1935 and redone in 1993-96.
Colour Spectrum An annual display of annuals and perennials set out in nine 'petals' representing all the colours of the rainbow.
Secluded Garden This cottage-style garden is illustrated with poems on sight, scent, hearing and touch; intertwined limes form a hedge and circle a spiral fountain; a stream is bordered with waterside plantings and scented flowers.
Rock Garden The first Rock Garden, built in 1882, was redesigned to include a central bog garden, cascade, and other water features. Plants are mainly alpines, Mediterranean, woodland and moisture-loving plants.
The Grass Garden Best seen in early summer, this garden, dating from 1982, has 550 species of grasses. These include cereal foods, building materials (thatch, bamboo, etc), sugar cane
Bamboo Garden 120 species of bamboo (woody grasses) are planted in this garden emphasizing their form, colour, and leaf shapes.
Duke's Garden Walled garden with formal lawns and seasonal beds; trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials
Rhododendron Dell Over 70 specimens with some unique hybrids planted in a dell carved out by 'Capability' Brown in 1773.
Azalea Garden Twelve different groups of azalea hybrids are arranged by date of creation in concentric circles of beds.
Aquatic Garden This garden, first opened in 1909, has more than 110 different species of water plants, with 40 being varieties of waterlily.
The Order Beds Once a kitchen garden, it is now used for summer colour with its collection of more than 3000 different types of herbaceous plants. A rose pergola with climbing roses is found in this garden.
Rose Garden Located by the Palm House, the 54 rose beds were created in 1923. The semicircular holly hedge and sunken areas are the remains of an 1845 William Nesfield design. The roses consist of floribunda, hybrid tea, shrub, and old English roses and are arranged by colour. June and July are the best times to visit.
Bee Garden Dating from 1993 there are three styles of beehive in this garden. Flowers planted are particular favourites of bees.
Lilac Garden This garden with 105 specimens in 10 beds is arranged according to their cultivation and breeding history. It is best in late May and early June.
Queen's Garden This 17th century style garden is found at Kew palace. It dates from 1963-69 and was opened by Queen Elizabeth II. Its main feature is its parterre. There is a sunken nosegay garden reflecting the use in the 17th century of fragrant flowers to help mask bad odours.
On the A307/A205
South bank of the River Thames, 10km south-west of London
Use public transport (underground, train, bus) from London (parking limited on the site); for full details see Kew’s website
Tel. 020 8332 5655 for visitor information
Open: see website for up to date information
Kew Palace has different times and entry is by timed ticket only. Kew garden shops and restaurant times vary.
Web: Kew Gardens
Photos courtesy Kew
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