Let's Go! The Great Broad Walk at Kew Gardens

The one garden we managed to visit on our recent trip to England is The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. As one of the world's greatest and oldest gardens, its 300+ acres of gardens is a must-see, and, frankly, overwhelming. Kew Gardens is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its collection of living plants is the largest in the world. While one could dedicate an entire blog to visiting this place daily, all we could manage were a few precious hours. I focused on the Great Broad Walk border and the Temperate House, which will be covered in a separate post. This week's post is all about the Great Broad Walk borders we visited in late September. Ready for a visual treat? Let's go!

The walk itself is a broad, paved path some 1,000 feet in length; it is believed to be the longest double border in the world.

Yes, you read that right! Some 30,000 plants in the new borders that were planted and opened in 2016. While we missed peak summer season, there was much interest in the grasses, seed-heads and late-flowering plants such as asters, penstemons, perovskias among others. The images here are basically in the order in which I experienced them.

A map of Kew Gardens in its entirety. The Broad Walk begins near Victoria Gate, center bottom, and heads past the Palm House towards the north east corner of the gardens, marked here as a yellow path. It terminates at The Orangery.

This overhead image, impossible for me to take, is from the Kew Garden website. It's great in that it shows the patterns of the beds, the undulating flow of greens and the vast scale of these borders.

Here's a view from my camera. I'm not so tall.

I will attempt to identify as many of these plants as I can based on photos I took of garden plans. While not everything was listed, I can at least give the genus in most cases, so think of this more as a visual tour and enjoy the moment.

Here, Phlomis russeliana is a plant I added to my own garden two years ago and am so pleased I did. Its easy nature and late-season seed-heads are a winning combination. Plus, the basal foliage is mostly evergreen for me. One thing I noticed while soaking up the beauty of these borders is how many of these plants I have in my own garden. Tried and true, so many of these are easy-care, and if you have 30,000 to take care of, it makes sense to garden with not only tough plants, but ones with more than one season of interest.

Penstemon 'Apple Blossom'

Allium senescens ssp. montanum, a plant we sell at the nursery that doesn't get enough recognition. The somewhat flattened and twisted leaves are what make it great, though the flowers do attract pollinators.

Grass and perennial seed heads front a patch of Verbena bonariensis.

Crocosmia seedheads and foliage in the foreground, Verbena bonariensis in the background and behind that is likely Solidago 'Fireworks'.

If anyone knows this grass, do let me know.  Thank you to Nell and Carol for the i.d. on this grass Calamagrostis brachytricha. It's a looker!

Penstemon 'Firebird' also known as P. 'Schoenholtzeri' is one I have in my own garden. I can speak to its tough nature and ease of care.

This Miscanthus, likely Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracilliumus' planted around the benches gave one the sensation of being a part of the garden rather than simply observing from the path.

More Verbena bonariensis backed by miscanthus.

Echinacea purpurea most likely 'White Swan' and Agapanthus 'Jack's Blue' which would have been a stunning combination in bloom. Still, seed heads provide interest and food for birds.

 Along the Broad Walk, you eventually come upon The Hive, an installation linked to a real hive of bees, whereby lights flicker in tune with the vibrations the bees make when communicating with one another.

It is an interesting concept and a beautiful sculpture. I appreciate the fact that you can walk into it and participate in the concept, hopefully sparking your imagination about pollinators.

There wasn't much in the way of sculpture, save for these metal obelisks to support climbing roses.

Asters made up a large part of the autumn color show at Kew Gardens. Although I am uncertain which aster this is, the visual impact and the volume of plant material speaks for itself.

One of the lushest plantings of Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' I have ever seen.

Alstroemeria 'Indian Summer' in the foreground.

Flowers of Alstroemeria 'Indian Summer'

Facilities Manager checking out a bird across the path.

Sedum and grasses in mass plantings make quite an impact. I enjoy public gardens planted like this, it feels luxurious - they have the space to do it so you can gain a generous vision of the chosen plants.

Asters, likely A. 'King George' and I also think that is some form of Molinia (grass) behind.

More of the mixed border with trees behind serving as a living backdrop.

Salvia microphylla en masse.

Another salvia, although I know not which one.

Phlomis, penstemon and a grassy lawn beyond.

Persicaria 'Fat Domino' on the left with Guara 'Whirling Butterflies' on the right. Beyond, seed-heads and tall Veronicastrum on the far right give interest to the back of the border, giving you reason to look beyond what is directly in front of you.

These maps of each bed were very interesting and well-done. I think, however, that perhaps a few plants have been added or changed, I could be wrong. In any case, they are very clear and beautiful to look at.

I liked this bed for the cheerful rudbeckia and the tall Veronicastrum 'Adoration'. Even though the Veronicastrum is finished blooming, the whorled leaf structure and spiky seed heads are pretty cool.

Hesperantha coccinea 'Major'

Asters, penstemon, rudbeckia and more. Nothing fancy, but it works and is likely very hardy.

Phlomis russeliana and thank you to Suz for the i.d. on the Selinum wallichianum on the right, quite a stately plant, indeed!

Perovskia 'Blue Spire'

Sedum and Pennisetum 'Red Head' in the background.

Pennisetum 'Red Head'

Clipped yew pyramids punctuate the entire border, and they add a solid note of green to what is a particularly frothy border this time of year, especially. When the light reflects off of them, they read more as sculpture.

The Great Broad Walk terminates at the Orangery, now a beautiful cafeteria.

 The light is spectacular and the food was pretty tasty, too.

The Great Broad Walk is not a new idea, but it's one that is basic vocabulary for English-style gardening, especially in the style of Gertrude Jekyll. It is a style many people have adopted (at least in the form of the single border) and while waning in popularity as newer garden styles catch the imagination, it still has a valuable place in gardening. At Kew Gardens, they do it magnificently. It's not a static border, rather it has movement and it flows, there are not little soldiers of flowers planted up in rows. The patterns of color and texture change throughout not only each season, but through the hours of any given day as the sunlight shifts. We visited in the middle of the day at the end of the peak season, so really, not ideal for visiting. Even still, it was wonderful. It felt relaxed and looked healthy. Much care has obviously gone into "right plant right place" with interesting combinations using rather ordinary herbaceous perennials. This just shows the skill that the gardeners have in putting together a nearly perfect border of this type.

Well, that's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. I hope you've enjoyed a brief tour of The Great Broad Walk at Kew Gardens and perhaps it's inspired you to visit in peak season, I know I need a few more months to properly explore Kew. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you all! Happy gardening!


  1. Thanks for sharing your visit to the Kew Borders. I enjoyed seeing them, even in a state of autumn decline. Did you see Pam's post about her visit from earlier in the summer?

    1. Hi Alison, I did see her wonderful post. It's so colorful, I recommend people visit her blog to check it out. It changes so much from day to day and our visits were three and a half months apart - a lot had changed, indeed.

  2. So glad you made it to Kew! We gave this part of the garden short shrift so I appreciate your lengthy post.

    1. We're glad we made it to Kew too, although we did not have enough time. Is there ever? Plus, it's exhausting, right? We need to go back to see what we missed, the good bits that you saw, right? :)

  3. Wonderful post and interesting thoughts on how this style might be passe currently. But I always find a mix of plants -- grasses, shrubs, perennials -- grown this well to be a thrilling sight, so thanks!

    1. Thank you Denise. I always find this mix to be thrilling also, it works well, don't you think? I guess I didn't mean to imply this style is passe, but newer more contemporary styles in garden design seem to be flooding the garden magazines (think minimalist, lots of hardscaping)...also the "meadow" look a la Piet Ouldof/Highline is re-imagining what garden design is all about. I find this style to be classic and eternal because it's so effective and beautiful. Cheers!

  4. Now you're talking! Gorgeous. I'm such a fan of this sort of thing; rather a traditionalist, I am! ; )

  5. Enjoyed your post, as always. The mystery grass may be Calamagrostis brachytricha.

    1. Thank you for the i.d., Carol! Most helpful, indeed! :)

  6. The grass you asked about looks like Calamagrostis brachytricha. I'm guessing those are Penstemons fronting it so attractively? They greatly resemble Byzantine gladiolus, but those would be long gone by September. This post is a wonderful sunny escape from today's sleet; thanks so much.

    1. Thank you for the i.d., Nell! Very helpful! And you're correct, those are penstemons fronting it...they had a large presence in the borders in late September. Sorry to hear you have sleet, that is kind of gloomy!

  7. Anonymous10:49 AM PST

    it's possible that the pictured Angelica is actually Selenum Wallichianum which is an umbelliferous queen with fern like greenery and large/ tall uber faby umbels on wine colored stems...very popular in the UK ..it does very well in the PNW..ck Annie's Annuals and Perennials (my favorite online nursery) for pix and details......

    1. Oooo, you are so right, Suz! Thank you for the proper i.d. I don't know my umbelliferous plants as well as I should. It's a looker, for sure. I'll check Annies (love them!) and see. Thanks again!

  8. I'd so love to get there one day but seeing it through your eyes was the next best thing. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos!

    1. Aw, thanks Kris! I DO hope you get there someday, it's such a worthy destination, I fear I did not do it justice.

  9. A fabulous walk. You could look at the several different times and see so many plants you probably missed the time before. I like this style. I hope it never really goes out of fashion.

    1. You really can, Lisa. I mean - just the difference from Pam Penick's post in June to this in late September, it's a totally different garden, and I'm sure planned as such. I like this style, too - very satisfying.

  10. Anonymous3:29 PM PST

    A rare treat to see gardening on this scale. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Rickii! I'm glad you see it as a treat! xo


Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments! I love hearing them, I will approve comments as soon as I can. Yay!

Popular Posts