Explore the Elegant Curiosities of the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens
Perfect for both children and adults, Kew Gardens offers a magical walk through the history and significance of botany.
Known affectionately to dyslexics today as ‘Cue Gardens’, ‘Queue Gardens’, or by its lazier vernacular ‘Q Gardens’ and ‘Kw Gardens’, Kew Gardens has a history as rich as its collection of flora. Perhaps the most royal garden london has to offer, from its beginnings as the garden to Edward I’s manor house in 1299, it has blossomed and thrived throughout the centuries. The Royal Kew Gardens we are most familiar with today may be traced back to the merging of the royal estates of Richmond and Kew in 1772, though was only adopted as a national botanical garden in 1840. Each of its major attractions stands individually as a snapshot of history, from the rise of the Industrial era in the form of the Palm House, to the eventual success of the Women’s Suffrage Movement as seen in the arson of the Tea House in 1913, right up to recent developments in the engineering of greenhouses such as the cutting-edge design the Davies Alpine House in 2006. Thus, a walk through the gardens in a walk through British history itself in one of the most awe-inspiring sites of wielded greenery in the country. In comparison to the Eden Project, there is a far greater wealth of architecture, activities and a phenomenal collection of botanical art that anyone can access. Unusually for an outdoor attraction, it is open all year round and has curated its collections and events so that there is always something interesting going on.
In order to really gain a sensation of Kew Gardens, it is best to divide its strengths between the gardens themselves and its structures. The cycle of the seasons provides a special feel amongst the flora. This Autumn the largest orchid in the world is in its first bloom for 32 years since its collection from Malaysia, its bloom spiking at an astonishing 1.5 metres high (arrange to see this before your arrival as it’s behind the scenes), the dasylirion wheeleri thrives during this season and grows through the roof of the Princess of Wales Conservatory, and a walk through the Treetop Walkway offers a canopy-high view of the turning of the leaves into their majestic red and orange hues. The Christmas Kew Gardens readies itself for the festivities with an array of decorations and family activities including an ice skating rink. This is a good time to escape into its tropical greenhouses, as well as view the Henry Moore sculptures without the obstruction of the usual leaves, and the Sackler Crossing on the lake freezes over like an illustrative looking glass beneath the waterfowl. The arrival of Spring brings with it all the cherry blossoms the heart could ever wish for and more in the Japanese garden, bluebells carpet the grounds around Queen Mary’s cottage as though laid in preparation for a ball of the faeries, and there are over 250 varieties of Magnolias to admire. Summer is the major season of the gardens where between picnicking you can promenade through the blooming rose gardens (the rose kew gardens is best known is the ‘La France’; a full bodied heavy flower with a lustful, almost moist, hot pink hue to its bountiful petals), fully appreciate the history trail, and attend one of the numerous daily tours. Whichever season you choose to visit Kew Gardens in, be sure to pick up a map of Kew Gardens at the entrance as even the most seasoned of botanic explorers have managed to get lost in the sprawling foilage.
Aside from the Kew Royal Botanic Garden itself, Kew has filled most of its stunning buildings with art collections, has a superb hidden art and literature archive (it’s very easy to arrange a tour of this), and historical houses to visit. The Marianne North Gallery houses her life’s work of painting plants from across the world, the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art is the first ever gallery dedicated entirely to botanical art, and you can catch a glimpse of what it was like to escape from the duties of royal life inside Queen Mary’s cottage.
Kew Garden is particularly good at providing activities for children, especially when compared to other gardens in London. There is a human sized badger set for them to rummage amongst the roots of the earth and pretend to spread TB to unsuspecting country folk, Climbers and Creepers is Britain’s first interactive botanical play zone, the Log Trail is a wonderful outdoor play zone, and the Temple of Imagination will nurture their creative side. There is also a marine aquarium and Treehouse Towers, amongst many other charming seasonal events. Adults can also enrich their knowledge of nature and its history by embarking upon one of Kew’s short courses such as photography, botanical illustration, and edible vs. toxic fungi. With so much attention to detail, phenomenal curation of the grounds, and dedication to the desires of families, Kew Gardens has rightly established itself has the most influential horticultural society in Britain.
Visit Kew Gardens at Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB.
Travel to Kew Gardens by train to Kew Gardens Station (District Line and London Overground), Kew Bridge Station (by train), or get to Kew Gardens by car and take advantage of the Kew Gardens car park right next to the main entrance.
Find cheap tickets to Kew Gardens, as well as family tickets for Kew Gardens via their website or buy Kew Gardens tickets on the door. Prices range from £2.50-£10. Online booking discounts available.