In November, I spent a chilly day exploring the beautiful sights of Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens as part of a biogeography module I’m taking at university. Kew Gardens is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a long time and, whilst the autumn and winter months are probably slightly less spectacular than the gardens in the height of summer, I had a really lovely time. What’s more, because I was visiting with the University of Southampton, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to see inside Kew’s Herbarium (which is usually off limits to the general public).
The Princess of Wales Conservatory
This is probably the most complex and modern greenhouse on show at Kew. The structure was opened in 1987 by Princess Diana (hence the name) and is home to 10 climatic zones, each categorised by different exotic and unusual plants. I loved the arid region of the conservatory because it contained some of the largest and most unusual cacti I have ever seen.
The Palm House
If you’re planning on visiting Kew Gardens, you absolutely must see the Palm House. The greenhouse’s structure alone is stunning and holds so much history, but stepping inside is like walking into another world. Hundreds of varieties of exotic palms tower towards the ceiling and ornate spiral staircases curl into the mist of the upper floor. This greenhouse was without a doubt my favourite part of the gardens.
The Waterlily House
The Waterlily House was completed in 1852 and hasn’t lost a smidge of its historic charm over the years. The humid room contains a large, black pool occupied by several species water lilies and all around the sides ferns and vines climb freely. Although this greenhouse is a lot smaller than others in the gardens, it’s definitely worth a look!
The Treetop Walkway
Although certain parts of the gardens are less impressive in November, the Treetop Walkway is breathtaking because of the multitude of autumnal colours provided by Kew’s vast collection of trees. The walkway towers 18 metres above the ground amongst the treetops and offers panoramic views of the gardens. However, if you’re afraid of heights, you might want to give this one a miss!
A herbarium is a collection of preserved specimens that document the identity of plants – a ‘plant library’ of sorts. At Kew, the Herbarium is home to more than 7 million specimens; the oldest specimen dates back to 1699 and around 30,000 new specimens are being added each year. I may be a bit of a plant nerd, but it was so amazing to walk through the building and see not only how it functions now, but also how it has changed over the years. The whole place is a beautiful concoction of history and geography and it was incredible to have the rare chance to see it. All that’s left to say is a huge thank you to everyone at the Herbarium and especially Rhinaixa Duque-Thüs for showing us around!
If you’re contemplating a trip to Kew Gardens, I would really encourage you to go for it. The autumnal visit was lovely, but I will definitely be looking at returning in the summer months so I can see the gardens in full bloom too! The large Temperate House is also currently under refurbishment until 2018, so I may aim to go back when that is reopened. If you’ve been to Kew, what was your favourite part of the gardens?