My birthday weekend provided a perfect opportunity to escape the city and visit Kew Gardens, a Unesco World Heritage Site famed its 300 acres of beautiful gardens and landscape. I’m not much of a gardener, but Kew promised a beautiful day out, lovely tea rooms and glorious grounds for picnicking.
We took the tube from Central London to Kew, which only took 25 minutes. The walk from Kew station to the garden entrance (cross up and over the footbridge) took 15 minutes, not including a detour into Oliver’s Wholefoods to pick up picnic supplies. The little shop area also has a Tesco, handy for grabbing a bottle of wine or two.
We decided to buy a Kew membership and a handy map at the admissions gate (admission details below) before heading into the gardens. We knew that our late arrival to the gardens meant we had to prioritize what we wanted to see/do. We considered the tram that takes guests on a 40 minute overview tour of the gardens for a fee of £4 adults, £1 children, but opted to walk to The Orangery for a cup of tea and a planning meeting.
We stuffed our faces with tea and biscuits and started our walkabout at Kew Palace and the Queen’s Garden. The Queen’s Garden and adjacent herb garden hold only plants native to Britain before and/or during the 17th century. Each herb was labeled with the 17th century name and a phrase referring to the plants healing properties. There were numerous chunks missing from the Galium verum section…perhaps hopeful tourists were inspired to help themselves? Tsk, tsk.
One of the most magical qualities of Kew Gardens is the ability to find innumerable quiet spots and tranquil spaces despite the large number of people who visit the park. It has acres of lovely meadow…
and quiet woodland glades.
Most importantly, it had a perfect spot near the Minka House for my birthday picnic!
After filling ourselves with wine and cheese (eating is a consistent theme in our travels) and finishing the Sunday paper , we continued our walk to the lake and across the lovely Sackler Bridge to the Treetop Walkway.
The walkway is officially known as the Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway. It was designed by the same architects that designed the London Eye (which I haven’t visited due to my traumatic childhood ferris-wheel experience at the hands of my cousin Debbie). We’ll save that story for another day. Unfortunately/fortunately, we didn’t have time to see Kew from the top of the walkway and planned on returning in a few weeks when the leaves start to turn. I was really looking forward to seeing the child-favourite Badger Sett, but it was closed until 2013 and almost closing time for the glasshouses.
We waited until the end of the day to visit Kew’s glass houses because of the heat and ended up rushing a bit as the houses close earlier than the rest of the grounds. The Temperate House is the largest of 8 glass houses and holds collections from Africa, New Zealand, Asia and the Pacific. The winding Victorian stairways were a lovely highlight and a vertigo inducing way to view the collection from the roof.
Kew is currently exhibiting works by David Nash throughout the grounds and glasshouses from now until April 2013. The pieces within the glasshouses are my personal favourites, with numerous works on display in the Temperate House. Mr. Nash uses found materials from the grounds that are at the end of their natural life to create new pieces for the exhibit. The above piece,Oculus, is in the Princess Of Wales glasshouse.
This piece, Black Sphere, sits at the top of a hill. The David Nash exhibit is evolving, with Mr. Nash creating new pieces within the grounds on an ongoing basis. New pieces are scheduled for unveiling on 13 October. There are also walking tours available twice a day if you are interested in a more in-depth explanation of his art at Kew. Here is a an interesting clip, courtesy of Kew Gardens, of David Nash at work.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Kew and plan on returning at least once during each season (we’ve already been twice in one weekend). Don’t assume Kew Gardens is only for guide-toting grannies and flower aficionados. It really does have something for everyone. Kew has numerous family/children programs, both educational and recreational. There is a Climbers and Creepers interactive play zone, the badger sett, Treehouse Towers,the Treetop Walkway and acres to run through without bothering anyone. I honestly didn’t see one unhappy child during my visit. There is also a domesticated rooster running around, which I thought was hilarious. He enjoys being hand-fed raisins if you can get close enough.
Also, you might consider checking Heathrow flight patterns for the day of your visit. The flyovers were not present the first day we went, but were really distracting to the get-out-of-the-city vibe on our second visit. It seems there is a Heathrow runway switching scheme (boooring read) that involves noise before 3pm and after 3pm at Kew (avoid 27R times).
Make sure you check Kew Garden information before you go for admissions times and event information. Enjoy!