Containing the world’s largest collection of living plants (over 30,000 different species) and located on over three hundred acres of land, Kew Gardens is one of the premier botanical gardens in the world, and is also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Kew park area has a long history. Early gardens in the area date from 1759, and after multiple changes in ownership, the park itself was formally founded in 1840.
When I visited the park in late April, spring had not yet fully arrived and there was still a slight bite to the air. Billowing clouds wafted past stark black tree branches against a blue sky as I wandered down the numerous wide, tree-lined pathways gazing at the many plants and trees, some of which were already in bloom. Countless park benches are placed throughout Kew Gardens, making it conducive to just sit and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of the park. Along with its biological significance, which I will get to in a moment, Kew Gardens is simply incredibly pleasant, peaceful and serene. It is a beautiful sanctuary in the midst of a giant city.
Along with the maze of pathways that lead to various plants collections, there are a number of special buildings, some of which house huge collections of various types of plants, and others that are of historical significance.
Like all of London, Kew Gardens abounds with history, obviously much too extensive to detail here. Of interest, however, what is termed the smallest of the British royal palaces, Kew Palace, is located in an area of the park that backs up to the River Thames. This large three-story, bright-red brick building, which you can tour, has a long history, perhaps most notable for the fact that at one time King George III convalesced here while suffering his first bout of ‘madness,’ by some, thought to have been bipolar disorder. For a time, he was restrained in a straight jacket, and such interesting facts, as the day when the King was once again allowed to use a knife and fork to eat is noted as you tour the royal dining room of the palace. A medicinal herb garden is also located behind the small palace from which some of the remedies for the King’s illness were obtained.
The Orangery is another building in Kew Gardens, which was constructed in an attempt to grow orange trees. However, the project failed and currently the building is used as a café. History such as this abounds at Kew Gardens.
Needless to say, the botanical plant collections at Kew Gardens are astounding and the stars of the show.
Throughout the park, each plant is individually labeled with its genus and species and generally the native area of the world where it is found. There are separate buildings or parts of buildings housing plants requiring differing amounts of sunlight, temperature and humidity.
One cannot help but be astounded by the diversity—and sheer strangeness—of plant life. Looking at some of the plants, I can’t help but think of Richard Attenborough’s hushed voice and reverence in some of his wonderful documentaries on the lives of plants. There is so little we really know about them.
Before I had known it, several hours had passed touring the gardens, studying the plants, eating at the Orangery cafe, and just enjoying the serenity of the wondrous place that is Kew Gardens.
All photos by the author.