Sitting in an English Garden: Kew 2011

Kew Gardens is known all over the world for housing exotic plants and conducting important botanical research. In operation since 1840 and a popular modern-day tourist attraction, Kew is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which attests to its significance. I visited Kew in May of 2011, on what turned out to be a pleasant (if not sunny) day. Even if one is not especially interested in botany or gardens, Kew has beautiful, tranquil grounds, and features that may well surprise and delight even the most skeptical visitor!

Kew Entrance

The entrance to the gardens- fairly uninspiring compared to the gardens beyond

Kew Greenhouse

The Victorian greenhouses were ornate and quite breathtaking!

Kew Entrance Tower

The unusual tower at the entrance

Kew Richmond Greyhound

Statue of one of the Queen’s Beasts- the White Greyhound of Richmond

I love tropical and exotic-looking plants- I’ve always wanted to have a hibiscus in my yard, despite the -20 ° C winters we get here- and so Kew was a lovely experience for me. The delicate, birdcage-esque greenhouses at Kew house loads of warm weather flora; and countless specimens much more fascinating than the usual palm tree.

Kew Palm

Of course, Kew does have palm trees!

Kew Hibiscus

Many photographs were taken of this gorgeous hibiscus bloom

Kew Mantis Sculpture

A giant praying mantis statue lurking among the trees

Kew Flower

A very unusual plant

Kew Tree

A bizarre maze of twisted roots or branches, or both

The ground floor of the first greenhouse I toured was exceptionally beautiful and packed with plants, and an even better view of it was provided by a platform near the roof of the greenhouse. This was accessed by an intricate spiral staircase, which gave a grand and fanciful air to the environment.

Kew Staircase

The striking spiral staircase, enveloped in foliage

Kew Greenhouse Roof

In true showy Victorian fashion, even the struts of the roof are decorated

Kew Greenhouse Roof

Although slightly rusty, the greenhouses are in great condition

There are several such greenhouses at Kew, all of different sizes but each sharing the same delicate appearance and exotic contents. But as its name suggests, Kew also has vast outdoor gardens; some are formal and some are more homely.

Kew Greenhouse Exterior

The greenhouses look so classical and airy

Kew Columns

History and classic influences are evident throughout the gardens- making them a very restful place

Kew Greenhouses

Some of the greenhouses are enormous complexes!

Kew Palm Greenhouse

This photo makes me imagine somewhere like Jamaica or India, not rainy London town! 

Kew’s Oriental-style pagoda is one of the best-known features of the gardens, and for good reason! It’s an impressive ten-storey structure, built in 1762 at the height of England’s obsession with Chinoiserie. The pagoda is something of a startling sight when one is used to seeing Gothic spires and futuristic skyscrapers rising from the London skyline.

Kew Pagoda

Visitors can climb the pagoda, but on my visit it was shut

The uniqueness of Kew only grew for me- I soon came to a treetop walkway! Fortunately, I’m not bothered by heights, so I was able to really enjoy the treetop walk. It afforded great views of the gardens, and- even better- it was almost directly below a Heathrow Airport flightpath!

Kew Treetop Walk

The lofty view from the treetop walk

Plane at Kew

A British Airways jet

Kew Treetop View

We were truly at the top of the trees

Kew Greenhouse View

The views were truly breathtaking

Kew Parrot

A feral parakeet, one of many thousands that live in the area around Kew

Kew is a lovely place, and the fascinating things I saw there honestly surprised me. The gardens are captivating and tranquil, and the greenhouses were full of amazing flowers and plants. Kew might not be a priority on every London tourist’s list, but it does provide a wonderful change of pace from the insanity of central London!

 

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