Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Highlights of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Introduction to Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Known to locals simply as “Kew”, the Royal Botanic Gardens was created in 1759 by Lord Capel John of Tewkesbury. Expanded frequently for the 250 years in which it has been in existence, Kew sits in the southwest portion of London and is not only a place where visitors can admire an immense collection of plants, trees, and flowers but is also a major botanical research and education institute, employing a staff of more than 700. About two million guests visit each year.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Gallery
Guide to Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
A typical trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens can consume the better part of a day, especially for those who are keen to visit all that the gardens has to offer. Some attractions within Kew are more popular than others but everything is worth a visit.
Visitors will want to be sure to see each of the magnificent glasshouses on the premises, including the Palm House, home to exotic and economically-important species such as rubber, banana, and papaya plants. Also of interest is the Temperate House, the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world, home to a number of endangered island species. Also check out the Princess of Wales Conservatory with its wonderful collection of orchids.
The Formal Gardens at Kew include 7 different themed gardens such as a rock garden, azalea garden, a grass garden, a bamboo garden, and much more. Visitors will also want to photograph the rose pergola and garden and the rhododendron dell, and stroll through the arboretum, the redwood grove, and the holly walk.
For families with children, Kids’ Kew includes an opportunity to browse the Bee Garden, frolic in an interactive botanical play zone, learn about nature in the conservation zone, visit undersea habitats at the marine display, play at Treehouse Towers, and climb to the Xstrata Treetop Walkway for a great view of Kew from up high.
There are also a number of galleries and small museums strewn through the gardens, several of them dedicated solely to botanical art. Other structures are also open to the public.
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History of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
The development of Kew as a serious botanical garden began in 1752 with the encouragement of Princess Augusta, who instructed her gardener to complete the garden that was already started at that particular location and to make it as grand as possible. She was assisted by the Earl of Bute, who wanted to have a garden that contained “all the plants known on Earth.”
William Chambers took on the job as the major designer of Kew Gardens. He made numerous changes to elements that were already there, but the cultivating of what was known as the Physic Garden in 1759 is usually considered the beginning of what would become known as the Royal Botanic Gardens.
The 1760s and 1770s saw the addition on many new structures within the gardens, including the Ruined Arch, Theater of Augustus, the Pagoda, the Orangery, the Temple of the Sun, the Mosque, and the Menagerie and Aviary. Historians say that these buildings represent Princess Augusta’s interest (and the interest of the British, in general) in the growing world and in different cultures outside of the United Kingdom.
In 1802, Kew Gardens and neighboring Richmond Botanic Garden were physically joined to become one large landscape. Around the same time, Sir Joseph Banks came onto the scene. A natural history enthusiast, Banks traveled the world with botanists and artists, gathering material that would literally shape Kew Gardens. He was also a major promoter of the Gardens and, as a close friend of George III, encouraged the King to take an interest in Kew as well. During this period, additional new structures and many new species were introduced at Kew.
However, when Banks and King George III died within a close proximity of one another, the garden nearly closed and saw a rapid decline during the 1820s and 1830s. Finally, under the direction of William Hooker beginning in 1841, the garden enjoyed a renaissance that continued under the leadership of Hooker’s son Joseph, who was director of Kew until 1885. It was during the father and son’s leadership that the magnificent Palm House was constructed in all its Victorian glory. It’s still the garden’s most recognizable feature. Several other structures were built during this era as well and the species of plants and flowers available for viewing at Kew increased ten-fold.
When the 20th century arrived, wars took their toll on the Kew Gardens. Though all the buildings therein survived mostly intact, flowers and plants were dug up in order to plant vegetables and other necessities. The Pagoda was even used for the testing of small bombs. The World Wars, World War II in particular, greatly slowed the gardens development and it wasn’t until the 1950s that it began to literally blossom once again with the help of a gift from the Australian government.
The 1960s saw more development and reorganization, which continued for the next several decades. The Palm House was closed in 1984 because it was deemed structurally unsafe. However, it was restored and reopened in 1990 and continues to be a favorite place for visitors to enjoy. In recent years, more buildings were restored and Kew became a World Heritage Site in 2002.
Today, the Royal Botanic Garden strives to “enable better management of the Earth’s environment by increasing knowledge and understanding of the plant and fungal kingdoms – the basis of life on earth.”
Getting to Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Kew Gardens opens daily at 9:30 am year round except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tickets are available online or in person. Guided tours are available or visitors may wander on their own or download one of Kew’s mobile apps for iPhone or Android.
There are four eateries onsite ranging from cafes that are kid-friendly to a self-service restaurant to the outdoor Pavilion, which is open during the late spring and summer.
The Kew Gardens Station is the closest underground station to the Royal Botanic Garden. From the station, it’s about a 5-minute walk to the Victoria Gate entrance of Kew. Exit the station through the row of shops and walk down Litchfield Road to reach Victoria Gate.
Train services (South West Trains) from Waterloo via Vauxhall and Clapham Junction stop at Kew Bridge station. From Kew Bridge station, it is a 10-minute walk to Kew Gardens (Main Gate entrance).
Visitors can also take the Route 65 or 391 Bus, which stops close to the entrance of the gardens.
For those arriving by car, there is onsite parking for an additional fee. The lot is limited to 300 cars so it can fill up quickly on weekends and in the summer months.
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