Kew is a remarkable garden and we took a day trip to the capital to take in this botanical masterpiece along with the sights and sounds of its Orchids Festivals 2018. However, we weren’t alone as Kew is also a busy garden if you attend during the half-term holidays like we did. Admittedly we had intended to go for over a year and finally got round to driving down to London (parking on the outskirts for ease and taking a tube ride to Kew) and taking in this famous botanical garden. You simply cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer scale of the trees, plants, buildings, and horticultural care that goes into looking after this national treasure of a garden.
Our trip coincided with the 2018 Orchids Festival taking place in the Princess of Wales conservatory. The festival was inspired by Thailand for the first time, and there were thousands of orchids all throughout the tropical glasshouse. Colourful displays of orchids covered tunnels, arches, carts and a Bang Pa-In-inspired orchid palace. The colours were dazzling with orchids ranging from bright, in-your-face pinks down to muted blues and all the way to dark crimson heads. With Thailand home to a reputed 1,100 species of orchids then Kew had a lot to choose from, and their horticulturalists did an amazing job to put together such a dazzling display that was definitely wowing the crowds that thronged into the Princess of Wales conservatory.
Elsewhere in the conservatory there were more than orchids to enjoy. Large palms and ferns were on display, carnivorous plants had their own corner, while there was a plethora of weird and wonderful cactuses in the arid zones. There was so much to discover and enjoy in the conservatory, but there is no set route to follow around the different zones and that made it slightly confusing to make sure you saw everything – especially with the busier-than-normal crowds that had descended during half-term for the Orchids Festival. On a quieter day it would be fantastic to have a more peaceful wander through the ten different climate zones and really take it all in.
One thing that really amazed Bertie and me was the neatness of all the work. Especially wandering through Kew’s arboretum with over 14,000 trees, where you could see precise tree circles around the specimens that had been perfectly cut out and neatly mulched. It is really that extra level of detail throughout the gardens that sets Kew apart. True, they have a large amount of gardeners, students and volunteers on site, but that level of manpower is required to keep such a collection maintained to such a high standard.
There was a lot of rebuilding work going on around Kew, with the huge Pagoda undergoing a refurbishment and a new children’s garden being put together, but nothing got me as excited as the prospect of the reopening of its Temperate House in May. It is the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world, Kew’s biggest-ever renovation, and will house some really exotic, rare and threatened plants – with an estimated 10,000 plants from 1,500 species set to be on show in there. The glasshouse itself is really imposing and I think it will be inspiring when it reopens to the public after a restoration that has taken around five years. I definitely intend to go back when it is open to see plants from temperate regions like the Mediterranean, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South and Central America and Asia.
The treetop walkway is a big pull for Kew and visitors flock to walk 18 metres high to get a view across the garden and into the city beyond. I am not one for heights normally but you must be impressed by the walkway stretching 200 metres through the forest canopy, where you can see up close the treetops and life within and also overlook elements of the garden. There are varieties of beech, chestnut and oak to enjoy within the walkway route and it really gives a different viewpoint of Kew for those without faint hearts, especially considering the walkway does tend to unexpectedly rock a bit.
As well as the Princess of Diana conservatory and the upcoming Temperate House, Kew also boasts two other glasshouses, in the Palm House and an Alpine House. The Palm House offers a wealth of rainforest fauna under a recreated climate of a tropical forest. It is an iconic, old glasshouse (over 160 years old) and features a geometric pattern of beds, along with a rare opportunity to climb the spiral staircases to walk round an upper platform level with the top canopy of the forest.
The Davies Alpine House is a really small glasshouse when compared to the other mammoths at Kew, but it houses a fantastic collection of alpine plants that really please the eyes. Measuring only 16m long and 10m high it boasts a great selection of campanulas, dianthus, primulas, saxifrage, tulips and much more in its small space. It is incredibly well maintained and looks so neat; you can really see the care and passion that goes into the alpine collection.
One area that really intrigued me, despite being closed for winter during our trip, was Queen Charlotte’s Cottage and its surrounding grounds. The 18th century thatched cottage was given to Queen Charlotte by George III and used by the royal family as a private retreat. It was given over to Kew by Queen Victoria in 1898 to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee, with the stipulation that the woodland was remained in its natural state. The focus for the land is for bio-diversity conservation and habitat creation, which is in such contrast to the detailed horticulture in the rest of the garden. Also non-native trees are reduced and native species planted. The cottage itself is a standout example of a thatched building from that time, and it is fantastic that the 37 acres of woodland remain managed with conservation at the forefront.
The Chokushi-Mon (Japanese Gateway Garden) was a real highlight for us, and its manicured landscape creates a real feeling of tranquillity. It is so precisely looked after and maintained, from the clipped shrubs down to the rocks and the raked gravel patterns to symbolise waterfalls, the sea and mountains. It has three distinct areas (Garden of Peace/Gardening of Activity/Garden of Harmony) overlooked by a finely-carved replica Japanese gateway and it is a pristine area of calmness, surrounded by a more natural woodland landscape, and sat within the centre of a bustling city.
There is so much packed into the 130 hectares of Kew Gardens that it can be hard to see and experience it all in one day. I haven’t even mentioned the kitchen garden, bamboo garden, water-lily house, lakeside areas or Mediterranean garden in this epic review. And it will undoubtedly change so much throughout the course of the year, so no two trips will be the same. It had been two-and-a-half years since my last trip to Kew and I hope it doesn’t take me so long to get back again.
For all the information about ticket prices, getting to Kew, facilities and more then check out the Gardens website here.