I am not a gardener. Nor do I play one on TV. But I enjoy nature’s beauty in any form! Hiking through heather in the Scottish Highlands, walking along wildflowers at Kelsey Head in Cornwall, the civilized pleasure of admiring the exquisite attention to detail in a Japanese garden or strolling through an English botanical estate. And boy do they take gardening serious in jolly old Albion! There are Garden Centers on every street corner it seems, and people take pride in turning the tiniest little nook into a thing of blooming beauty. There’s the story of the tourist walking by a village green admiring the beautiful lawn. He spots an old man on his knees with trimmers, shears and a bucket, clipping away in great concentration. He asks the old man “How do you get such a splendid lawn?”. The old man looks up and replies “You cut it and mow it and cut it and mow it for 300 years; then you have a lawn”. Nice thought in our age of instant gratification, eh?
Gorgeous gardens can be found all over the UK. How about the amazing surprise of subtropical Inverewe Gardens in Wester Ross, the far north of Scotland, compliments of the Gulf Stream? Other unusual spots are the Botanic Gardens in Inverness, Cornwall’s Lost Gardens of Heligan and the glorious Royal Gardens at Norfolk’s Sandringham Estate, just 50 miles north of Cambridge. Even in a city, you’ll never be far from a floral feast for the eyes. The biggest metropolis of them all, London, appropriately offers visitors the world’s largest collection of plants and flowers, conveniently gathered at easy to visit Kew Gardens. We spent a partly cloudy yet lovely April day at Kew a while back: let’s go have a look!
Kew’s official name is the “Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew” and they’re not kidding about the “Royal”. Last week Tuesday, July 26th, the Prince of Wales became the new Patron of these 250 year old Royal Gardens. In his acceptance video clip, His Royal Highness Prince Charles shares his joy in being named Patron, since he’s always had a keen interest in nature, ecology and protecting the planet.
If you’re in London for a few days and want to visit Kew but feel it’s a bit out of your downtown comfort zone, no worries, it’s easy to get to! Three public transportation options – Tube, train or bus – will get you to one of Kew’s four entrance gates. I like the Tube: a simple and cheap Zone 3 ride on the District Line to Kew Gardens Station, a mere 5 minute walk from Kew’s Victoria Gate. ADA tip: in this direction, the station exit has some stairs and steps, so if you have trouble with that or are a wheelchair user, stay on the Tube, exit at the next stop in Richmond, and ride the Tube back to Kew Gardens Station, as the platform in this direction has a level exit.
Buses are another option – Route 65 – but I’m partial to trains! Ride South West Trains to Kew Bridge Station, about a 10 minute walk from the Elizabeth Gate entrance. A word of warning: it leaves from Waterloo and as a native European I immediately get the Eurovision Song Festival winning Abba song in my head! Lasted. All. Day.
The variety of flowers and plants inside the gigantic greenhouses was truly stunning and it was amazing to feel the different climates inside these incredible structures. The Princess of Wales Conservatory boasts 10 climate zones such as the dry and wet tropics where you can stare back at a Chinese Water Dragon, and, especially appealing to the more prickly personalities, it boasts a large cacti section. The Palm House is over 60 feet high in the middle and has a Walkway about 30 feet high up so you can check out the tops of palm trees, and the Temperate House is the largest Victorian glass structure in existence!
The Waterlily House, the hottest and most humid greenhouse at Kew, boasts enormous Victoria Waterlilies. “Look honey, this says their pads are strong enough to carry a baby!”. “Dang, and we left them kids at home!”.
We felt very healthy walking around on this partly sunny yet brisk April day, enjoying the plants, flowers, birds and views – with break options at several cafés and cafeteria. There’s a cool Treetop Walkway some 60 feet up – ADA-friendly with a “lift” – and almost 700 feet around, with the “Rhizotron” art display under it, at the Arboretum with trees from around the world, and art everywhere: sculptures sprinkled throughout the grounds, as well as several indoor Art Galleries, all included in your entry ticket.
Oh, important side note, continuing a familiar thread throughout my blog posts: the former Orangery is now a restaurant, offering a nice afternoon cream tea! Tea and scones to warm your bones….
Kew has some nice Japanese touches too. The unique 10-storey octagonal Pagoda was built in 1762 and towers 163 feet high. Originally, it was very colorful and featured 80 wood-carved gilded dragons that disappeared early on, rumor having it they were sold to pay for the Prince Regent’s debt. The Pagoda is undergoing major restorations and presently scheduled to reopen in 2018 in its original splendor, complete with dragons! The “Chokushi-Mon” is not part of Pokemon GO but rather a Japanese Gatehouse, built for the Japan-Britain Exhibition in 1910 and then moved to Kew. It anchors three Japanese gardens, themed Peace, Activity and Harmony. Gotta catch them all!
At the end of your visit, do visit Kew’s shop back in that same entrance building. It offers tools, accessories, seeds, gloves, flower pots and more, for beginners and experts. Here, diehard non-gardeners like me can pick up cool gardening gifts, from hats to planters to metal birds, for the green thumb Significant Others in our lives who keep the gardens in shape and nature’s beauty in our lives!
DISCLAIMER: My travel blog “Con’s Corner” takes a sometimes irreverent look at 4+ decades of travel in the British Isles. My trips are real: no months of staging the perfect photo, no waiting for the perfect weather, no clearing streets to get cars and trucks out of the frame, and no Photoshopping. It’s true travel. Note that my opinions and views are not necessarily shared by the company. In fact, they may be shaking their heads. The photography is mine except where credited as noted, as are all typos, grammatical errors, and odd expressions. It’s a blog, people, not literature! I also accept full responsibility for any puns, varying on a scale from hilarious to ouch… Be all that as it may, I intend to keep at it until I get it right. Con Jager, Santa Rosa, USA.
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