Let's Go! Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Rounding out our visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew just outside of London, let us explore a few more of its treasures. Last time we looked at the Great Broad Walk, the largest double herbaceous borders in the world. You can revisit that post here, but for today, let's journey to a few other corners of this UNESCO world heritage site although we shall barely scratch the surface of this 300 + acre garden with the largest collection of living plants in the world.

This is one of Kew's most iconic sites, the Palm House. From the Kew website:

The Palm House was constructed in 1844 by Richard Turner to Decimus Burton’s designs to provide a home for the tropical plants that Victorian explorers brought back from their adventures in the tropics.

No one had ever built a glasshouse on this scale before and to do so the architects borrowed techniques from the ship building industry which may explain why the Palm House looks like the upturned hull of a ship.

Today the Palm House is one of Kew’s most recognisable buildings having gained iconic status as the world’s most important surviving Victorian glass and iron structure.

But first, let us start at the beginning. Upon entering, you are greeted with a lovely gift shop full of all things gardening, as well as a small cafe. I could have lingered, but we travel light and I did not want the temptation.

I certainly wanted one or more of these lovely pots, made just for Kew. The ruffled edges remind me of pie crusts. 

Walking past the gift shop towards the gardens, the Palm House Pond is a major feature with the Museum of Economic Botany behind.

The parterre in front of the Palm House. From the website:

In 1848 William Andrews Nesfield created an intricate geometric pattern of beds, or parterre, to surround the newly constructed Palm House finished. Over time Nesfield’s designs disappeared but in the 1920s flower beds were reinstated and the bedding changed twice a year, a practice which continues today.

The Lion of England, one of ten of the Queen's Beasts surrounding the Palm House.

From inside the Palm House. This was not good for cameras nor very warm people. We didn't linger.


From the entrance of the Palm House overlooking the parterre and the Campanile or tower in the distance that was, from what I gather, once a water tower and chimney for the Palm House, connected via tunnel. 

The Syon Vista looking north through the acreage beyond. This is on the back side of the Palm House with the rose gardens on either side.

Moving along, about a 20-minute walk from the Palm House, we spy Kew Palace and the Queen's Garden. This distinctive building, built in 1631 was a pleasure to explore. From the Kew website:

Kew Palace was constructed in 1631 for a Flemish merchant Samuel Fortrey. A lovers knot with the initials S and C are carved over the front door of the house representing his initials and that of his wife, Catherine de Latfeur.

About 100 years later, it was leased by Queen Caroline and subsequently bought by George III. He and his wife, Queen Charlotte, spent happy summers at Kew Palace with their 15 children and it was an important refuge during his infamous episodes of ‘madness’. After Queen Charlotte died in 1818, Kew Palace was closed up.

It was acquired by Kew in 1898 and opened to the public for the first time. Today it is in the trust of Historic Royal Palaces.

Facilities Manager learning about all those 15 children Queen Charlotte had from one of the docents dressed in period costume. 

The interior.

Nice color!

The view out the front of the palace to the vast gardens beyond.

The view out of the back of the palace to a kitchen garden on the left and a formal garden on the right.

The formal gardens seen at ground level.

After visiting Kew Palace, I wandered the vast lawn and many mature trees, eventually encountering this, Platanus orientalis or Oriental plane tree. This specimen was planted in 1762 and is one of Kew's five oldest trees - it may have been planted as far back as the 15th century. 

Quite an impressive beast, or "old lion" as it is called.

I cannot for the life of me tell you what this building is, but I really appreciate the diamond patterns in the brick work.

One of the wilder areas I explored.

A Wollemi pine, a rare dinosaur of a tree thought to be extinct. Discovered in its native Australia in 1994, it has been brought back from the brink and is now sometimes offered for sale. This specimen was planted by Prince Philip May 5, 2009. There is reportedly an original specimen to Kew planted by Sir David Attenborough in 2005, although I did not find it.

Some of the surrounding gardens. 

On to the Temperate House. From the Kew website:

The largest Victorian glasshouse in the world has reopened. This Grade I listed building is twice the size of the Palm House. It is home to an internationally important collection of temperate zone plants, including some of the rarest and most threatened.

We were overwhelmed by this place and were vying for space to enjoy it, by the time we arrived it was packed with visitors. I took a rushed walk through, barely able to absorb what I was seeing. Here are a few highlights that are worthy of sharing.

Erica verticillata or whorl heath, considered extinct in the wild for over 50 years, it is being brought back from the brink of total extinction by collections such as this. It is being reintroduced to South Africa's wild areas where it is endemic.

Encephalartos lebomboensis or Lebombo cycad.

Leucadendron argentum or silver tree, also endemic to South Africa.

Tecomaria capensis or cape honeysuckle.

I am not certain what this is, perhaps some form of erica if I were to guess. The growth habit is very unusual, so I thought I would share.

This beauty is Encephalartos lehmannii, a blue African cycad.

 The architecture of this structure is pretty breathtaking.

Araucaria bidwillii or bunya bunya pine hails from Australia.

Citrus limon 'Imperial' 

Dicksonia antarctica or Australian tree ferns, note the lovely spiral stair in the background. 

Leucospermum conocarpodendron subsp. conocarpodendron or gray tree pincushion. From the Kew website:

200 year old seed: Seeds of fynbos species are known to be long lived. Our specimen of subsp. conocarpodendron took 200 years to find its way to Kew. In 2005 a researcher found some seeds at The National Archives that had been collected in 1803 and then confiscated by the British Navy. The seeds had been kept in the Tower of London, then Chancery Lane and at The National Archives, before coming to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. There, Kew’s scientists managed to germinate a few seeds, 200 years after they had been collected. One of the resulting plants can now be seen in the Temperate House.

Salvia discolor, something we grow at the nursery, a very handsome salvia with nearly black flowers set against a pale silver-green. Not totally hardy for us, it's worth growing all the same.

Pinus roxburghii or long-leaved Indian pine.

There was so much more to see and explore, however this tour is abbreviated at best. We had to be on our way, so we walked through the arboretum towards the Victoria Gate.

Some autumn color was in the air, this was early October.

Those pines! The one on the right is Pinus pinea or stone pine.

On our way out, a quick stop in the nursery and gift shop. Yes, please! I would love some tree ferns. As it turned out, all I purchased were seed packets of veggies and flowers.

Gorgeous tree ferns for sale.

If you were interested in purchasing one of these rare trees, the infamous Wollemi pine, one can be yours for 170 pounds which equates to about $217 U.S. It's worth it if you must have one, proceeds from sales of plants in the gift shop and nursery support Kew, so it's a win/win if you can afford it.

I did spy these, though and seriously thought about it.

And these. Clever!

Leaving via the Victoria Gate, I was a little sad. It's just so far away, I don't know when/if I'll ever be back. I won't dwell on what I didn't see, rather treasure what I did.

The town itself, as seen on the walk from the tube station to the Victoria Gate, is charming with many eateries and shops to tempt you along the way.

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is amazing. So much manpower, effort, time, history, land, preservation, perseverance, stewardship, planning and love obviously go into this magical place of all things plants. As I said in the blog post about the Great Broad Walk, I could visit every day for a year and still not scratch the surface. I do hope I'll be back someday and I hope those of you who wish to visit get the chance. If you do, plan a couple of days if you are in love with plants as I am. I had the schedules of three others to consider, so my time was a bit limited. Maybe . . . maybe a trip with other plant enthusiasts could be arranged someday. I'd like that.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you all! 


  1. Thanks for sharing what you did manage to see at Kew. Some day I would love to visit, as you say, with a bunch of other plant lovers who won't mind taking the time to look at everything.

    1. Wouldn't that be lovely, Alison? Something to consider!

  2. Not only are the plants outstanding the history and architecture is unbounded.

  3. When we visited Oct 2017 the temperate house was closed for repairs, so I'm thrilled to see your photos. We airbnb'd in Chiswick so were able to walk to Kew -- ah, your post takes me back!

    1. Oh, that's too bad! I guess it had been closed for a while. Isn't the neighborhood a sweet one? I could definitely see air bnb-ing there.

  4. Thanks for another wonderful tour, Tamara. I'd love to explore the Temperate House in person but this was the next best thing, and easier on my pocketbook as I certainly wouldn't have been able to walk away from the gift shop empty-handed.

    1. Easier on the pocketbook! Indeed. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and let me tell you, it was HARD to walk away empty handed (nearly...bought seeds and a couple canvas grocery bags) from the gift shops. Yes, shops - there were a few. So many books, art, cards, jewelry, socks...all botany themed, of course.


Post a Comment

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

Popular Posts