On my birthday, after an exquisite breakfast in "The Ritz", we ventured to Kew Gardens. I guess the last time we were there was in the mid-eighties when Ian was riding in his pushchair like The Prince of Siam.
We arrived at eleven in the morning and left at five in the afternoon but we could have stayed much longer because we missed certain things such as The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of botanical art and the Bonsai House. It would be impossible to cover everything in a single day at Kew Gardens.
The gardens have been in existence since 1772. They emerged from old royal estates that would at that time have been in open countryside west of London. The famous Palm House was constructed between 1844 and 1848. The establishment of Kew Gardens coincided with imperial exploration of the planet. Exotic plants were being brought back to London from every corner of the world.
|The Palm House - after applying "Waterlogue"|
Kew Gardens are much more than a leisure venue. Run by The Royal Botanical Society, they are underpinned by science and the thirst for knowledge and preservation of species. The gardens cover three hundred acres south of a loop in The River Thames near Richmond and they contain over 14,000 trees.
|In the rafters of The Palm House|
If you were to make a heat map showing which parts of Kew are most visited you would I am sure find that the three main glasshouses come top of the list - The Palm House, the newly refurbished Temperate House and The Princess of Wales Conservatory. On my birthday there were a lot of schoolchildren in these locations - holding clipboards and pens. They were also on The Treetop Walkway that I had been specially looking forward to.
It was a joy to stroll under majestic trees, along grassy avenues. There were redwoods, black pines, mighty English oaks and sweet chestnut trees. In the Victorian Palm House the tropical trees battle for light, soaring up to the glass rooftop and the air is warm and humid like a jungle.
One of my lasting memories of the birthday excursion will be the titan arum in The Princess of Wales Conservatory. This bizarre plant hails from the now shrinking jungles of Sumatra. It emerges from the earth like a mighty column, growing perhaps six inches a day until it finally bursts into bloom emitting a powerful odour like rotting meat that in the wild attracts varied pollinators. If you would like to know more about this amazing plant go here.
|Titan arum - Amorphophallus titanum|
Seeing so many different plants together - from cacti to carnivores, from water lilies to pampas grasses, plants from every continent - it reminds visitors that we live on an amazing planet. Each plant is different and in its own way truly wonderful. Without necessarily spelling it out in written words, Kew Gardens announces the awesome majesty and incredible variety of the botanical world and says - Cherish and Save or Lose!
|Nelumbo - "Baby Doll"|
|Sweet chestnut seen from the Treetop Walkway|
|Callianthe picta in The Temperate House|