“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It simply blooms.”
Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I’m a real sucker for anything nature related- particularly plants and flowers. I simply adore them and just can’t get enough of their dazzling beauty. There’s something about their colours, textures and fragrances that genuinely make me feel happy and contented. A gardener by trade, a large chunk of my week is already taken up with all things horticulture related, so you’d probably be surprised to know that my weekends often revolve around plants and flowers too…. Talk about a bus man’s holiday! This weekend was no exception as I decided to take an autumnal wander around one of my favourite places of all time… Kew Gardens! Truth be told, Kew holds a very special place in my heart as I often associate it with good times spent with my mum, back in the good old days when we would day trip to Kew for a walk around and if lucky, stop for a tea and cake in the Maid’s of Honour tearooms opposite. Those were the days…
As one of the world’s leading botanic gardens, Kew is always such an inspiring place to visit – whether that be in the summer when all the flowers are flourishing and in full bloom or now, when the gardens take on a more autumnal hue and the trees start to shed their summer leaves. Whenever you choose to visit, you’ll never be disappointed by the plethora of sights and sounds on offer here. It truly is one of my happy places that never fails to warm my heart and nurture my soul.
Opened in 1759, Kew Gardens proudly boasts ‘the largest and most diverse range of botanical and mycological collections in the world’. The vast and varied collection contains plants and flowers from all across the globe – including tropical, temperate, arid and alpine climates. Plants are grown outside in the gardens and also within the controlled conditions of the numerous glasshouses and nurseries which are located on site. The entry fee is £14 and money from ticket purchases go towards research and development opportunities within the gardens. You can buy tickets at the door or opt for online booking – my personal preference, as it eliminates queuing time and speeds up entry- thus meaning more time to wander and explore! Always a winner….
My first point of interest was the Temple of Aeolus – a view from the past, built in 1763. It’s a fantastic vantage point which offers stunning views of the wonderfully iconic Palm House and also the plant family bedding areas. Standing atop the mound, you soon realise that your body is enveloped by the chilly swirling autumn winds around you – quite fitting really, considering that according to Greek mythology Aeolus was the ‘Keeper of the winds’. Surprisingly and interestingly, the mound on which you stand to appreciate the stunning views is a man-made protuberance built when the gardens were first opened. Way back in the day, the land in and around Kew was all completely flat and so any time of hill or mound would have to have been engineered by the gardeners of the day.
Next stop on my journey was the walled gardens and the allotment bedding areas- a firm favourite of mine. I find this little area so charming and so evocative – I can’t help but conjure up thoughts of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’ – a familiar children’s tale I greatly enjoyed as a boy. The colours of the flowers here are exquisite and despite being in the depths of autumn magnificent orange Dahlias were in full bloom.
The vegetable patch – or The Kitchen Garden as it’s more formally known – has a plethora of delights on show, including some of the biggest cabbages I have ever seen! They were absolutely ginormous! Peter Rabbit would have had a field day nibbling away on those mountainous beasts! The pumpkin patch was also pretty exciting to see and got me feeling all kinds of Halloween-y …. I know, I know, I’m such a big kid at heart!
Having been blown about a bit by the autumnal winds, I felt it was time to warm up a little, so headed to the hot houses for a bit of a gander. Stepping inside, you can immediately feel the humidity hit and your body starts to warm itself up after the biting winds and cold outside. The hot houses never fail transport you, in an instant, to the tropical climes of the rainforest. The kaleidoscope of colours in here is phenomenal and the towering enormity of some of the plants leaves you feeling almost ant-like in comparison. There are leaves that are as big as my actual body! Truly incredible…the wonders of nature never cease to excite me.
Intoxicating fragrances waft around enthralling the senses and the effervescent colours on display are so rich and vibrant that one can’t help but feel inspired and in awe of the natural world. I particularly liked the danger and wildness of the carnivorous Pitcher plants which lure their prey to their untimely demise through their intoxicating scents and lurid colours. I know that carnivorous plants often ‘feast’ upon insects and smaller creepy crawlies, but some of these plants were so vast that they could easily have swallowed a bat or small bird. Just look at how amazingly well-adapted they are….
The iconic Victorian Palm house was next on the list of places to see and things to do. The Palm House recreates a rainforest climate – a living laboratory supporting a diversity of plants from the tropical regions of the world, all under one glorious roof! The ingenious planting scheme simulates a multi-layered habitat – with canopy palms and various towering trees, climbers and epiphytes down to the shorter understorey plants and dwarf palms. Many of the plants in this wonderfully exotic collection are now endangered, some even on the brink of extinction – so Kew provides pivotal and ground-breaking research into maintaining and propagating such enormously important ecosystems.
Having ascended the spiral staircase to stand atop the viewing platform of the Palm House, one feels a sense of calmness and tranquillity pervading. The vista is absolutely stunning and being surrounded by the luscious, verdant foliage in all of its many hues of green make you feel as though you’ve been transported back in time to some prehistoric world where the tall neck of a brachiosaurus may be spotted lurking amidst the vegetation. The architecture of the building itself is superbly exquisite and the eye is drawn to all sorts of wonderful features such as the beautiful floral cornicing seen on the roof rafters above.
Having been to Kew so many times, there are certain places that send me into a place of complete tranquility. The water lily house is a place of meditation and calm. This large conservatory installation houses a large circular shaped pond, adorned with all manner of waterlilies – the green pads being vast in size and the lily’s themselves so perfectly formed. Scanning the pond before me, I couldn’t help but think of the Buddhist symbolism surrounding the lotus flower: ‘As the lotus rises on its stalk, unsoiled by the mud and water surrounding it, so the wise one speaks of peace and is unstained by the opinions of the world.’
Having sampled the living beauty of the gardens, I then decided to sample some beauty of a different kind – beauty that comes from death. With this in mind, I headed towards the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art to take in the delights of Rebecca Louise Law’s: Life in Death exhibit – an artistic installation symbolising the beauty that can come after life has ended – most notably in the form of dried and preserved flowers suspended as garlands. The gallery is small but overpoweringly beautiful and one is able to wander through the cascading curtains of flowers which fall either side. Rebecca speaks of her own work and says that she aims to ‘create art that enables the viewer to find serenity within nature’ and I would say that her installation does exactly that. Wandering through Gallery 5, one can almost feel a palpable sense of calm and serenity pervade. The exhibit room falls deathly silent as onlookers view the beauty that still continues to remain alive even in death. A beautiful and thought provoking attraction that’s well worth a visit.
Having spent a large chunk of the day perusing the delights of Kew, time was ticking and evening was approaching – how wonderful would it be to watch the sun set over the river I thought to myself. With that in mind, I jumped back onto the 65 bus towards Kingston and hopped off at the top of Richmond Hill – another favourite destination of mine and one which I return to again and again. Here, the view of the river is magnificent and one feels as those they can see the whole of London. The vista is incredible and I often like to buy a drink from The Roebuck pub and sit on one of the many benches adorning the walkway to watch the world pass by. With a beer in hand, I sat and watched the clouds dance in the sky before parting to reveal the most glorious of sights – a stream of the most dazzling sunshine pouring from the heavens above and alighting the darkening waters below. It was simply stunning – a real sight to behold. It was the perfect end to another wonderful day….