Kew Gardens

Conveniently located to provide respite from the hustle and bustle of the capital, Kew Gardens is an oasis of tranquil gardens, exotic plants and stunning flowers. Peter Gray reports.

If your idea of heaven is strolling around a tropical garden, or even if it’s not, there’s something for everyone at West London favourite Kew Gardens. Stretching to over 300 acres, the Royal Botanic Gardens are as full of surprises as they are stunning plants and flowers.

There are countless locations to enjoy the institution’s vast collection of flora, of course. The gardens are home to the “largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world” and the collection is housed in a variety of buildings including:

The Temperate House

The Temperate House at Kew Gardens

Decimus Burton’s iconic glasshouse, the world’s largest surviving Victorian greenhouse, recently reopened after a long period of restoration. Built to house flora which require a temperate climate, the building plays host to over 10,000 different plants, including many rare and threatened species. Divided into three sections, the enclosure has separate sections for plants from Australasia & America, Asia and Africa.

Covering a jaw dropping 4880 square metres, the Temperate House took a staggering 40 years to construct.

Princess of Wales Conservatory

The Princess of Wales Conservatory is one of Kew’s newest structures. Opened in 1987 by Diana, Princess of Wales, the conservatory has played an influential role in plant conservation in the UK. With ten climate controlled zones, the conservatory is the place to be if you want to see the garden’s vast collection of orchids, water lilies and cacti.

The Palm House

The Palm House at Kew Gardens

Another Decimus Burton structure, the Palm House is one of the Royal Botanic Gardens tropical plant enclosures. The building was constructed in the 1840s using techniques gleaned from the ship building industry. This is probably why the structure so closely resembles the upturned hull of a ship.

The Palm House is not just home to a variety of tropical plants, however. The greenhouse also plays host to an assortment of Robins and wrens as well as a Chinese water dragon called Techno!

Waterlily House

If you are visiting the Palm House then why not stop in at the Waterlily House too? The building is just next door and it houses an impressive collection of amazon waterlilies.  Much more intimate than the monumental Palm House, the building makes a pleasant stop off while on a visit to the gardens. Be warned, however, that the Palm House opens from April to September only.

As comprehensive as Kew’s collection of plants and flowers may be, the Royal Botanic Gardens are so much more than just another home for exotic plants. If you fancy something a bit different, then why not stop of at one of the following attractions?

Kew Palace

Kew Palace

This architectural gem (comfortably the smallest of the British royal palaces) houses a remarkable history, with former residents including Hanoverian monarch King George III and his family. Tucked away in the grounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Palace is not open to the general public unless they purchase a ticket to the gardens first. This means that the palace has a really exclusive feel about it, as befits one of the capital’s best kept secrets.

The palace’s rooms have all been faithfully restored, however the building feels much more homily and intimate than other palaces of the period.

Exhibitions at the Palace tend to focus on the troubled Hanoverian dynasty, of which King George was a key part. Famously mad, the long suffering monarch spent many years at Kew, recuperating from his frequent bouts of insanity. The displays give visitors a fascinating insight into the life of the King and his loving family.

Kew Palace is open during the summer months only. Full details can be found on the website.

The Pagoda

The Pagoda at Kew Gardens

The reign of George III saw a flurry of building work at Kew, with a series of impressive structures completed during his monarchy. One of the most notable was the Kew Pagoda, which was completed in 1762.

The work of architect Sir William Chambers, the architect behind Somerset House, the building was built in the Chinese style which was so popular at the time. Chambers, who had studied Asian architecture while working for the Swedish East India Company, had been keen to translate his new leaening into bricks and mortar. Kew gave him the perfect opportunity.

Tree top walkway

A 60 ft high circular pathway, the treetop walkway offers breathtaking views of the gardens. It might prove a little much for those who dislike heights, but for everyone else, the Treeetop walk will be a highlight of any visit to Kew.

Queen Charlotte’s Cottage

It’s not the easiest thing to find, but you’ll be glad you did, once you set eyes on this delightful little abode. Queen Charlotte’s idyllic retreat away from her idyllic retreat, the cottage is absolutely beautful and surrounded by beautiful, unspoilt greenery.

The building is open to the public from April to September and it’s well worth a visit with the Picnic Room proving a particular highlight. Used by the Royal family for taking afternoon tea, the room has a pretty decorative scheme with some of the decorations provided by Queen Charlotte’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth.

West London’s Kew Gardens is quite rightly one of London’s best loved visitor attractions. The site is jam packed full of beautiful things, with rare plants, flowers and other flora. However, if you fancy something different, then there are a plethora of charming attractions to keep you amused. Unmissable.

More information about Kew Gardens is available here.

If you’d like to discover more great outdoor places of interest in London, please click here.

-Places of Interest-
What: Botanical Gardens
Notable for: plant diversity
Where: Kew
Website: Kew Gardens