Royal Botanic Gardens - Kew

It is over ten years ago since I last visited these gardens, and by all accounts many changes have taken place since then, not least the gardens have become a World Heritage Site.

This came about in July 2003 to recognise Kew's importance and contribution to botanical and environmental science since 1759.

Among the changes that have taken place since my last visit are:

The Orangery and The Nash Conservatory have undergone major renovation to preserve their structure.

The Broadwalk has been renewed, and improvements have been made to the vistas.

In 2006 a bridge was installed across the lake

An 18-metre high, 200-metre Treetop Walkway was opened in 2008 and is situated between the Temperate House and the Lake.

These alterations / improvements are set to continue into the forseeable future in order to maintain plants and their environments for future generations, meaning that I will have to try and fit in another visit to see and record the changes!

As always, when visiting such a large garden, I study a plan of the gardens and select the must see parts of the gardens, then fit anything else I can if time allows.

(click on pictures to enlarge).

On arrival I entered the gardens by the Victoria Gate and took a left along the boundary footpath through the South Arboretum.

This took me past the Berberis Dell, The Marianne Gallery then through the Ruined Arch as I headed towards the Pagoda.


The Pagoda

This Structure is a 50 metres high Chinese-style octagonal building built by William Chambers in 1762.

In front of the Pagoda is a large Cedar of Lebanon tree that was was such a good specimen when the vista was planted, that no one wanted to remove it, even if it does block the view somewhat.

The work on The Vista was completed in 1908.

The Pagoda and Syon vistas are the only remaining elements of William Andrews Nesfield’s redesign of the Arboretum in 1845.


The Japanese Landscape

This part of the garden covers an area of 0.8 acres and was designed to complement the Japanese Gateway


This Chokushi-Mon (Gateway of the Imperial Messenger) is a replica of the Karamon of Nishi Hongan-ji in Kyoto.

It was first created for the 1910 Japan-British exhibition and later reconstructed in the Gardens.


The Japanese Landscape




The Japanese Landscape & Pagoda

The landscape was laid out in 1996 following restoration of the Gateway.

In designing it, Professor Fukuhara of Osaka University adapted garden styles from the Momayama period, when the original gateway in Japan was built.

The Landscape comprises of three garden areas:

Area 1: The main entrance leads into the Garden of Peace, an area reminiscent of a traditional Japanese tea garden.

Area 2: On the southern side of the Gateway is The Garden of Activity.

This symbolises elements of the natural world, such as waterfalls, mountains and the sea, where raked gravel and large rocks represent the movement of water.

Area 3: The Garden of Harmony links The Garden of Peace and The Garden of Activity.

Here stones and rock outcrops interplanted with shrubs, represent the mountain regions of Japan.

Placed in one of the rock outcrops is a granite block presented to Kew in 1979, that is inscribed with a haiku.

(A haiku is a poem comprising 17 Japanese characters or sounds).

The haiku was composed at Kew in 1936 by Kyoshi Takahama and reads:

Even Sparrows

Freed from all fear of man

England in Spring.


The Arboretum

The arboretum is divided into three areas to aid in their management.

Each area holds a comprehensive collection of hardy trees arranged in groups according to genera – meaning that trees that are related to each other, are placed together for comparison and ease of research.

The North Arboretum which includes the original 1759 botanic garden and mixed decorative plantings to reflect the historical development of the Gardens.

The West Arboretum includes the Lake, Bamboo Garden and the Rhododendron Dell.

The South Arboretum contains Berberis Dell and The Queen Charlotte's Cottage Grounds.

Sadly I was unable to see all of the arboretums because of time limitations, that is, I was on a day trip and basically only had time to see the West side of the garden, perhaps one day I will make another visit and see the rest.


The Temperate House

When built this was the largest plant house in the world, but that attribute no longer stands however, it still is the world's largest surviving Victorian glass structure.

The building covers an area of just under 5000 square metres and was designed to hold many tender shrubs and trees from the world's temperate regions by Decimus Burton and was completed in 1898.

The building eventually gained Grade 1 listed building status.

However this listing added to the costs of its renovation in 1977 due to the integrity of the original design having to be strictly maintained.

Thanks to modern technology, the designers were able to reproduce the original concept with modern more lasting materials.

Similarly, a modern heating system was installed to keep the building at about 6-7°C (45°F) throughout the winter.

This was done with the use of heat exchangers situated in the basements that are fed from the main boilerhouse a quarter of a mile away.


The Evolution House

(previously known as the Australian House)

This building projects at right angles from the Temperate House, and is the first example of a prefabricated aluminium alloy building built at Kew.

Initially it housed antipodean flora, however, later in 1994, it was converted to house an interactive exhibition showing the evolution of plants and a virtual volcano.

On completion of my visit to these two amazing buildings I headed via Limes walk and past King Williams Temple towards the Palm House.


Palm House

This building was also designed by Decimus Burton and engineered by Richard Turner, and was constructed between 1844 and 1848.

The Palm House has 16,000 panes of glass, and is considered to be the most important surviving Victorian iron and glass structure in the world.

When it was constructed it was the first time engineers had used wrought iron to span such large widths without supporting columns.

This technique was borrowed from the shipbuilding industry, that is, from a distance the glasshouse resembles a series of upturned hulls.

The result was a well lit high space that could accommodate large palm trees.

The heating system was quite unique in its day as well!

Originally,the basement boilers sent heat into the glasshouse via water pipes running beneath iron gratings in the floor.

To allow this to happen a 150 metres long (490ft) passage was constructed to run between the Palm House and the smoke stack that stands beside Victoria Gate

This tunnel served the dual purpose of carrying away toxic fumes to the chimney and enabled coal to be brought to the boilers by an underground railway.

Today, the glasshouse is heated by gas and the tunnel houses are used as an office for the Palm House Keeper.


Some of the contents of the Palm House

Conservation and Restoration

As with most buildings that are over one hundred years old they eventually need some restoration work done on them.

Between 1955 and 1957 the glazing bars were cleaned and the entire house was re-glazed, then between 1984 and 1988 a more comprehensive overhaul was undertaken.

This necessiated the Palm House being completely emptied for the first time in its history, and the plants moved to other glasshouses.

Those that were too large were cut down and used to make specimens for the Herbarium and Museum.

Once the building was emptied it was completely dismantled, restored and rebuilt.

During the restoration work ten miles of replica glazing bars were made of stainless steel rather than iron,and the new glazing was made of toughened safety glass.

This restoration work took nearly as long to finish as the glasshouse took to build.


Water Lily House

At the time of my visit the lily pool had been largely emptied for the remainder of that season, so the attendants had decorated the pool with a few rafts of cucurbits as seen here.


Cherry Walk;

This pathway is lined with a collection of Japanese cherries that were initially planted between the Palm House and King William’s Temple in 1909.

The walk was extended to the Temperate House in 1935.

Storms in 1987 and 1990 took their toll on the collection, so the path was replanted between 1993 and 1996, with funding from Sakura Bank of Japan.

Among the collection are pink-blossomed Prunus Kanzan and the Great White Cherry - Prunus Taihaku.


Princess of Wales Conservatory

This conservatory replaces a group of 26 smaller buildings that were falling into disrepair.

The architect Gordon Wilson designed it to be energy-efficient, and easy to maintain.

It was opened in 1987 by Diana, Princess of Wales, and is named after Princess Augusta the founder of Kew Gardens.

The Conservatory contains ten computer-controlled climatic zones.

The two main climate zones are the dry tropics, representing the world’s warm, arid areas, and the wet tropics, housing moisture loving plants from ecosystems such as rainforests and mangrove swamps.

The eight remaining microclimates, include a seasonally dry zone containing desert and savanna plants, plus sections for carnivorous plants, ferns and orchids.

The southern end is heated more by the sun than the northern end,and houses plants such as echiums and silver agaves.

The central area contains an elevated aquaria, complete with waterlily pond and the dangling roots of mangroves, plus displays of orchids and carnivorous plants.

At the northern end are species from the moist tropics, including banana, pineapple, pepper and ginger.


Some of the contents of the Conservatory

There are sensors located on the glasshouse walls and secreted about the beds feed environmental information back to the conservatory’s central computer.

This switches on heat flows, opens vents to allow in cool air or prompts mist sprays to operate, until the preset conditions required for each climatic zone are met.

During construction a time-capsule was buried at the southern end of the conservatory by Sir David Attenborough,as part of the World Wildlife Fund’s Plants Campaign.

It contains seeds of basic food crops and endangered species,and it is planned to be exhumed in 2085.

By this time, many of the plants in it may well have become rare or even extinct.


The Rock Garden

In 1882 Kew was given donation of 3,000 alpine plants and this created the need for a rockery so one was built.

The then Director William Thistleton-Dyer wanted a structure akin a Pyrenean mountain side.

This led to a 150 metre valley being built of Cheddar limestone, and rocks salvaged from ruins of former buildings at Kew.

At its centre was a winding path, simulating a natural watercourse.

In 1929 the Cheddar limestone was replaced with Sussex sandstone, which retains more moisture, and allows a wider range of species to be cultivated.

After the completion of the Princess of Wales Conservatory in 1987 an area at the southern end was built for Himalayan plants plus a new cascade and bog garden.

This work was completed in 1991.



The Orangery was built in 1761 for Princess Augusta, the founder of Kew Gardens who lived nearby in Kew Palace.

At one time the Orangery was the largest glasshouse in England, and still bears the family coat of arms above the central bay of the façade.

The building was built of brick and coated in durable stucco, and is the largest classical style building in the Gardens.

As its name suggests, the Orangery was designed as a hothouse or stove house to grow citrus plants but it was found that the low levels of light made it unsuitable for this purpose.

In 1841, Kew's Director Sir William Hooker moved orange trees to Kensington Palace and installed large glazed doors at either end of the Orangery to improve its effectiveness.

Thereafter he used the building to house plants too big for other glasshouses.

It basically remained this way until it converted to a tea room in 1989, then as a retaurant in 2002.


Kew Palace

Kew Palace is Britain's smallest royal palace and the third building to bear that name.

Built in 1631 as a merchant's house, it later became the home of George III and Queen Charlotte.


The Rose Garden

The Rose Garden was planted with 6,000 roses in 113 beds, in 1923.

It is situated in an area behind the Palm House where the Palm House Parterres designed by William Andrews Nesfield once stood.

The sunken areas on the western side of the Palm House, along with the semi-circular holly hedge are all thats remains of the original Parterre.

Sadly at the time of the year I visited it the gardens were long past there best.


........................and that concludes my tour around The Royal Botanic Gardens - Kew .

I hope to visit these gardens in the near future, and if I do, I will make every effort to see the many areas that I missed on my first visit.

Areas such as the North and West arboretums, and of course those areas that have been altered since my last visit!


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