This is Peter Shepherd’s report on his recent visit to the wonderful Kew Gardens. He brought all a beautiful souvenir tea towel!
There’s something very special about a visit to The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. The gardens were first established by the Princess of Wales in 1759 as a garden for exotic plants and became famous under the management of Sir Joseph Banks. He was partly responsible for gathering the multitude of specimens from all over the World alongside other famous explorers and botanists such as Charles Darwin and David Livingstone.
Kew Gardens straddle the south bank of the River Thames about forty minutes west of Central London. The grounds are approximately three hundred acres and contain a variety of specialist gardens with a multitude of plants from all over the world. Apart from Kew Palace which is normally closed through the winter, there are a wide range of undercover venues so you don’t have to worry about the weather.
There are two major glass houses; the Temperate House rated as the `world’s greatest glasshouse’ and the Palm House which is Kew’s Iconic Victorian masterpiece. There’s also the Princess of Wales Conservatory, opened by Diana Princess of Wales in 1987. Within these three conservatories’ you’ll find a wide variety exotic species including a good range of Australian flora. There’s also the Herbarium which contains several million dried plants and houses an extensive library.
There are two art galleries which contain around two hundred thousand works of botanical art. The collection includes pieces by 18th and 19th century masters such as Ehret, Redouté and the Bauer brothers as well as works by contemporary artists. In 2008, Kew opened the Shirley Sherwood gallery to display these works. The other gallery, which was one of the highlights of my visit was the Marianne North Gallery, featuring over eight hundred paintings by this intrepid botanical explorer/painter who, in the 1870’s travelled around the world drawing and painting specimens of rare flowers and plants all at a time before colour photography was available.
If you’ve forgotten to pack a picnic there are five cafés and restaurants. If you’re adventurous or got adventurous children there is a tree tops walkway and a variety of child friendly attractions. To make it easier to get around there is the Kew Explorer which is a hop on hop off land train that takes you from one highlight to the next.
Within each season there are a variety of different events and activities. In 2019 one of the highlights is an exhibition by Dale Chihuly – possibly the world’s most celebrated glass artist. The exhibition, `Reflections on Nature’ brings his work to the stunning back drop of Kew.
During December Kew presents `Christmas at Kew’ which is a spectacular after dusk light and sound display. I was lucky to visit on New Years’ Eve and enjoyed the light show and later the New Year firework display with the Thames River providing a magical backdrop.
For garden lovers or nature enthusiasts Kew Gardens are well worth a visit.