Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew London March 2017

by Emma Bumpus on April 4, 2017

Spring explodes on the banks of the River Thames with botanical wanderlust as Careertraveller takes a 30-minute journey from Central London to Kew’s famous UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Greeted by a jungle of green urban space and kaleidoscopic colour we enter a biosphere of pure natural beauty and intelligence derived from a love and curiosity for the arts and science. Up above rests a verdant skyline of oxygenating trees whilst below awaits a curvaceous carpet of Palm House Parterre buttery yellow daffodil beds that escort us to paradise.

Overwhelmed by the initial size and array of plants, glades and gardens we hop on the Kew Explorer land train for a delicious show of outstanding attractions and seasonal highlights. A jolly 45-minute ephemeral commentary brings Kew’s history alive with stories of royalty and conservation dating back to 1759 when Princess Augusta founded the gardens.

A tour around 326 acres of diverse landscape reveals secluded treasure in the form of 38 listed buildings including Kew Palace, temples and glasshouses. From 18th century Orangery, whose classical building once housed ornamental citrus plants to Chinese folly Pagoda, a fashionable gift for the princess we discover 18th century architecture and architect Sir William Chambers.

An Arboretum of almost 14, 000 trees introduces Redwood Grove, an introduction to giant cone-bearing trees where Kew’s tallest tree, a coastal redwood, stands majestically 39.3 metres high. Continuing past oaks and conifers to pine and ancient maidenhair tree Gingko biloba, we uncover the work of Kew’s scientists who study the traditional uses of seeds for medicinal purposes. Amidst bursts of red and pink Rhododendron Dell and Azalea Garden we inhale the romance of ornamental magnolias and Japanese cherry blossom ‘Prunus Shirotea’ trees, whose horizontal branches twinkle with snow white fragrance.

A hop off at The Hive is an opportunity to experience the secret lives of bees by stepping into a 17 metre high installation created by artist Wolfgang Buttress. On the basis that honeybees communicate primarily through vibration, this 170,000-aluminium piece hive-like structure is a fantastically winning experience of multisensory low humming sound, light and vibration. Inviting the visitor to engage by biting a wooden stick connected to a conductor provides a sense of vibrational messages through the bones in the head, which surrounded by wildflower meadow plants, introduces the Pollination Trail.

Hive activities take us on an educated detour to Kew’s own beehives and order beds which situated near the the Jodrell Laboratory underlines the scientific research and projects behind the scenes. A declining bee population is reflected in the Garden’s Pollinator Strategy and explains the Bumblebee Backpacks, whose tiny radio devices help Kew’s scientists track the pollinators preferred flowers. Inspired by the beekeeping and wild flower nectar producing beds, it becomes obvious why The School of Horticulture at Kew is the centre of excellence and worldwide botanical education.

Bee and wild flower identification take us to tropical orchids via the Princess of Wales Conservatory, whose hot and cool climatic zones explain how conservation preserves Kew’s reputation as world leader in study of the species. Opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1987 we get lost in this glasshouse of 10 climatic zones covering rainforests, humid mountains and fruits of the desert and embrace orchid mania. Sultry, fragrant, and exotic wild flowers are an explosion of colour through a steamy voyage of mangroves and water lilies to glossy coffee and cacao plants! A mixture of dry tropic architectural cacti brings the spirit of Mexico alive with the succulent blue Agave tequilana, which aged in the plant for up to 12 years produces tequila!

A breeze past the endangered Chinese Paper Bark Maple with an ornamental stature and coppery orange bark justifies a jaunt to Xstrata Treetop Walkway. Climbing this 18 metre high platform defines the word arboretum, which in Latin translates ‘a place with trees, where we are blown away by nature. Sky-high London views are a lens for wildlife, tree species and seasonal landscape blooms that stretch West to the Sackler Crossing whose S-curve bridge provides lakeside eye candy.

A homebound stroll past the romantic King William’s Temple and iconic glass Palm House is another excuse to sample more of Kew’s listed buildings offering inspiration, open space and relaxation to all. Inside this restored Victorian house, built to house worldwide tropical palms and trees, awaits a rainforest of medicinal and bizarre species across the continents from The Americas to Africa and Australasia. Under the hot and steamy stainless steel rafters we uncover science in the form of fruit, wood from the Ebony Tree and a better understanding of the planet’s DNA and ecology.

Summary, Kew is a utopia of knowledge and perfection that deserves more than a day’s visit. As for the Waterlily House, Marianne North Gallery and Temperate House et al, to be continued!

Further information:

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

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