My London list starts with Kew Gardens at any time of year.
More formally called the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, or RBG Kew, this is 300 acres of plant wonderfulness. I don’t have a favourite part and I wouldn’t change a thing. Visiting in the autumn works well for fall colours and the grasses especially.
These gardens have been expanded and developed by many people since the 1700s.
If you read yesterday’s blog, “Greenwich, interesting statues, and Emma Hamilton“, you’ll undoubtedly remember that I mentioned King George II’s statue at Greenwich. King George II was not the father of King George III, he was the grandfather. The fellow in between was Prince Frederick, who died at age 44 while his father was still alive.
Frederick and his father didn’t get along (to put it mildly) but their shared destiny as the royal family of Britain shackled them together. Despite the hostility, they were almost next door neighbours.
Kew Palace, still standing and open to visitors to Kew Gardens, became the home of three of Frederick’s sisters. The parents lived in Richmond Lodge, not terribly far away. Frederick, his wife Augusta, and their children lived in the White House, a palace that used to stand only a few metres from Kew Palace. Richmond Lodge and the White House are gone now.
Princess Augusta had gardened while Frederick was alive, but as a widow she threw herself into horticulture even more, as far as I can tell.
Her garden at Kew grew to become the Kew Gardens of today.
While visiting Kew, I wasn’t thinking about Princess Augusta, I was thinking of plants and occasionally about my lifelong guilt at committing herbicide on so many of them by inept gardening.
Back home in Calgary, we get a bit of fall colour but it’s almost all yellow and it doesn’t last long. At Kew, they have such a diverse collection of trees and shrubs, there’s every shade a leaf can be: red, orange, yellow, green, it’s all there. With incredible cleverness I seem to have only taken pictures of yellow and green, and a rust colour. Trust me on the red please.
We came in by way of the Victoria Gate, and walked the long way round the pond in front of the Palm House. Apparently the word “iconic” is overused so even though the Palm House is used as the icon for Kew Gardens in more than one piece of merchandise, I’ll say the Palm House is instantly recognizable as the symbol of Kew.
It’s such a photogenic scene.
The Geologist had seen a photo of a glowing yellow Tulip Tree on Kew’s website. I think we saw the same tree.
This past summer, they installed a special interactive work of art called The Hive at Kew Gardens. Created by UK artist Wolfgang Buttress, The Hive is a structure made of a metal mesh, in the shape of a hive. The level of light and sound inside, where you will soon find yourself, are controlled by the activity of a real beehive. You can’t see the real beehive. It’s like the Internet, out there somewhere and connected by magic.
It was cold and not very sunny so not a lot of light and sound when we were there. There are some cool listening posts where you can hear recently discovered bee chatter – we heard them quacking.
I love the way The Hive looks like bees buzzing around.
I also liked being inside with the other human bees.
But we can’t spend all day thinking about honey. It was time to get out of that hive and onto solid ground. We’d admired the Tulip Tree. Next was the Ginkgo. This is a botanically unique plant, unchanged since 200 million years ago. It’s apparently the same now as it was when some of its leaves became fossils.
I like the Ginkgo’s leaf for the simplistic reason that it has a pleasing vein pattern, fanning out from the base in simple lines instead of a complicated net.
Kew is a scientific garden with ornamental features, not the other way around. The Order Beds are one place where the science comes through loud and clear.
This is the best time of year to visit the grasses in the Order Beds near the Alpine House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory. I love photographing the seed heads of the tall Pampas Grasses as they glint in the sun.
Inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory they have a diverse collection of cacti and succulents from around the world. We were lucky enough to see some of them in flower.
The Conservatory was opened in 1987 by Diana, Princess of Wales. It honours an earlier Princess of Wales: Augusta.
Inside the Conservatory there are 10 climatic zones. We got there close to closing time so only lingered briefly in one of them.
Then outside and a slow walk to the Elizabeth Gate. I haven’t made the transition from the old name, Main Gate. They changed it in 2012. I suppose I’ll catch up eventually.
There was another fossil tree on the way there. The Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, was discovered alive in 1946. Up till then, it was only known in fossils.
It turns a lovely copper colour in the fall.
The sun was setting (it sets early these days). We had a last look at the Orangery. This classical white stucco building dates from 1761. It was designed by Princess Augusta’s architect, Sir William Chambers. There’s a lot of Chambers’ work still standing at Kew Gardens, but this is his only surviving plant house (as the Kew Gardens website puts it).
It didn’t ever get enough light for growing oranges, but worked fine for other plants. Now it’s a restaurant where earlier today we indulged in a latte and lemony lemon cake.
The Elizabeth Gate is close by and still looks lovely and fresh. In 2012 they spruced it up as part of the overall cleanup of London in preparation for the big year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and the London Olympics. I’ve always loved the ornamentation.
As soon as you get through those lovely gates, you’re on Kew Green.
The old church here is St. Anne’s, built in 1714. Loads of people are connected to this church.
The artist, Thomas Gainsborough, is buried very close to the church wall in a recently restored grave with a railing.
Unfortunately, the other stones here are also getting worn down and many are illegible.
Gainsborough died in 1788. He wanted to be buried near his friend, Joshua Kirby, who had died over ten years earlier, in 1774. His wish was honoured, and sources record that the graves are adjacent to each other. Unfortunately I can’t read the stones well enough to see Kirby’s for sure.
Joshua Kirby was the clerk of the works at Kew under Sir William Chambers. His daughter, Sarah (married name Trimmer), was an educational reformer in the 1700s and was very well known in her day. In a couple of weeks I’m going to be checking out a school she built; one of the few of its type still standing. At least, I hope it’s still there.
As you can imagine this was all thirsty work. Thank Heavens there’s a pub or seven in and around Kew Green.
I like The Botanist. Usually it’s just for a beer but this was dinner time and the meal was very satisfying: beef pie. Yummy.
If your dog is good you can take him to the pub. If he’s really good, he’ll buy your drink. There was a lovely yellow Lab under the table nearby but I didn’t see him getting a round all night. Retriever? I think not.
Having eaten and drunk our fill, it was time to wander around in search of stained glass. Another benefit of visiting London in November. You don’t have to stay up late to see the pretty colours.
Day at Kew Gardens, check.