The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew is more than a beautifully landscaped park. Among other things, it includes a royal paplace, two art galleries, a library with 750,000 volumnes, 40 buildings of historical and/or architectural interest and scientific research facilities. With all of its attractions, it is not surprising that it hosted over 1,850,000 visitors in 2018.
Located in southwest London along the River Thames, the Royal Botanical Gardens cover some 326 acres. It is home to 8.5 million plant and fungi specimens including many rare and endangered species. To ensure that they remain safe and orderly, the Gardens have their own police force, the Kew Constabulary, founded in 1847.
Although there were gardens here before, Kew became the modern national botanical garden in 1840. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
Kew offers a number of different garden experiences. In addition to gardens with formal flower beds, there are natural areas. The Arboretum includes some 14,000 trees.
There are also Japanese gardens complete with a 4/5 scale replica of the gateway to an ancient temple in Kyoto, Japan. There is also a Japanese wooden house set among the bamboo collection.
Another outdoor attraction is the Treetop Walk. A 200 foot walkway perched some 60 feet above the ground, it allows visitors to walk among the branches and treetops and thus view the plants from a different perspective.
The Hive is a structure that lets visitors experience how a beehive operates.
Kew has three large glasshouses. The Palm House (1844) was one of the first large glasshouses built during the Victorian era. Inside is a rain forest that includes rare and endanger species.
The world's largest Victorian glasshouse is the Temperate House. As the name indicates, it is devoted to plants from the temperate regions of the world.
Opened in 1987, the Princess of Wales Conservatory covers almost an acre. It includes 10 computer managed mirco-climates.
Kew also has ornamental buildings. Foremost among these is the Great Pagoda. It was designed by Sir William Chambers in 1762 for Augusta, Princess of Wales, who took an interest in the gardens at Kew. Ten stories high, the pagoda offers birds-eye views of the gardens and London beyond. However, there are 253 steps to the top.
The Nash Conservatory was originally built for Buckingham Palace but was moved to Kew in 1836 by King William IV. It is now used for special events.
Nearby is the elegant Orangery designed by Sir William Chambers in 1761. It is now a restaurant.
As mentioned earlier, Kew has a royal palace. Kew Palace was the summer home of King George III. (see separate article). On the opposite side of the gardens is Queen Charlotte's Cottage, which George III built for his consort.
The two art galleries, the Shirley Sherwood Gallery and the Marianne North Gallery, explore the intersection between art and botany. (See separate article).
Although the above list of features is rather long, it is not exhaustive of what there is to see at Kew. For more information about visiting, see the Royal Botanic Gardens website.
There are several ways to get to and from Central London to Kew. These include the more commonplace methods such as the Tube and the railroad from Waterloo Station. However, during the warmer months you can also travel by boat between Westminster Pier and Kew Pier.
Going by boat takes you out of the ordinary - - it is the way Britain's monarchs went when they traveled to Kew or further up river to Hampton Court. On the warm, sunny day on which we took the boat from Kew to Westminster Pier, it was a very restful experience. We sat outdoors watching as the scenery changed along the Thames from tree-lined banks to an urban center. In addition, the boat has a bar and refreshments.
The boat is not for those in a hurry. The ride takes about an hour and a half in either direction. This is primarily due to the fact that the Thames is a tidal river. The boat has to contend with tides going in the opposite direction and when the tide is out, the boat has to go slowly to avoid scraping the river bottom. (Due to an effect called “squat,” a boat will sit lower in the water the faster it goes).
For more information about the boat service, see the Thames River Boats website
Above: The Temperate House, the largest Victorian glas house.
Below: Kew has a number of water features.
Above: The Great Pagoda built for Princess Augusta in the 18th century.
Below: The Orangery, which was also built for Princess Augusta.
The formal gardens include lawns with yew tree arched (above) as well as flower beds and herbaceous borders (below)
For more about Kew:
Click here for our profile of Kew Palace
Click here for profiles of the Kew art galleries
Click here for our review of Chihuly's art at Kew
For more about cruising to England:
Click here for our England home page
Click here for our London home page
Cruise destination - England - London - Royal Botanic Gardens Kew