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Gardens Worth Visiting: Kew

January 30, 2010

Palm House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) In 1998, on my first visit to the UK, I spent a week in London. One day, I set off on the Underground to visit The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew – and was totally blown away by the beauty I found. I spent the whole day at Kew, staying (if I remember correctly) until they threw me out at closing time.  And I seem to have spent most of my time either snapping the shutter on my camera or with my eyes popping and my mouth hanging open.

Bird of Paradise (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) I was still a novice gardener at this point in my life, so what was most exciting about my first visit to Kew was discovering new plants. When I look back at the photographs I took that day, I seem to have been most taken with the discovery of plants grown in more temperate and tropical climates and with new varieties of familiar plants. I was particularly excited to get my first glimpse of a Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) bloom and to suddenly understand its name. Among the familiar plants, I spent hours looking at varieties of poppies, roses, irises, and rhododendron.

Unk nown flower, Kew Gardens, 2000 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) By the time I visited Kew Gardens again a few years later, I was at a different stage in my development as a gardener, and I saw the gardens differently. I still took hundreds of close-up photos of beautiful blooms,
Rhododendron bloom, Kew Gardens, 2000 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Unknown flower, Kew Gardens, 2000 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
Lady's Mantle and Iris, Kew Gardens, 2000 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) but I also paid attention this time to the aesthetic effects created by combinations of plants and the layout of plants in the landscape,
Rhododendrons, Kew Gardens, 2000 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Orange and blue combination, Kew Gardens, 2000 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

and to trees.

unknown tree, Kew Gardens, 2000 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) unknown tree, Kew Gardens, 2000 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
African stone sculpture, Kew Gardens, 2000 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) An exhibit of African stone sculptures placed in the landscape was a special treat during this visit to Kew. (The combination of beautiful gardens and beautiful art is my idea of heaven.) Among my favorites were these birds nestled in a meadow
African stone sculpture, Kew Gardens, 2000 (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) and these children playing leapfrog in the grass.

When I look back on this last visit to Kew Gardens, one of the things that surprises me is that I kept no record to identify plants. It’s time for me to go back to Kew again. The gardens have changed since I was there last, and so have I. I would love to experience the Xstrata treetop walkway. This time, I would pay attention to plant identification, making special notes on those that might be suitable for my own garden. Having recently read Andrea Wulf’s The Brother Gardeners, which includes an account of the origins of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, I would also pay much more attention to the geographic origins of the plants and to the order beds, where herbaceous plants are arranged according to botanic classifications.

Kew Gardens is open every day except Christmas eve and Christmas. It is easily accessible by public transport, and once inside the gardens, you can take advantage of the Kew Explorer for getting around. If you have never visited Kew Gardens, I recommend that you add it to your wish list!

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2010 2:29 pm

    Dear Jean, I am delighted to read this account and to learn of the pleasure you have had in visiting The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. I am old enough to remember when admission was 1d [one old penny].

    As a Londoner one is indeed fortunate to have Kew. Another delight for a future visit is The Chelsea Physic Garden, in Chelsea, and it occurs to me that you would probably enjoy The Museum of Garden History in Lambeth.

  2. January 30, 2010 5:10 pm

    I agree with Edith and so glad that you enjoyed Kew. It’s certainly one of my favourites and the real joy is that if the weather’s bad, you can go in the glasshouses!

  3. January 30, 2010 5:47 pm

    I love Kew. It’s a magical place, I hope you make it back there for a visit soon.

    RO xx

    • Jean permalink*
      January 30, 2010 11:13 pm

      I’m glad that all you Brits enjoyed my visit(s) to Kew. 🙂

      RO, You’re right; it is magical! I, too, hope I make it back again soon. I used to do this kind of traveling in summer, but since I became a really serious gardener, I don’t want to leave my garden in the summer. I guess I’d better start saving my pennies and rethink my travel schedule.

      Charlotte and Edith, I did visit the Chelsea Physic Garden when I was in London the first time in 1998, but I didn’t know enough to properly appreciate what I was seeing. It’s someplace else I need to go back to.

      Edith, I didn’t know about the Museum of Garden History, so thanks for the recommendation.

  4. January 30, 2010 7:31 pm

    Hello Jean,

    I have never seen Blue Poppies in person but have been fascinated by them, since I first heard about them years ago. I love visiting the UK, but sadly did not get a chance to visit the gardens. I definitely need to schedule a visit again so I can see these wonderful gardens :^)

  5. January 30, 2010 7:53 pm

    How gorgeous, the Bird of Paradise is perfect, and that blue poppy gets me every time. I hope it doesn’t do me in this summer (or vice versa). The trees are spectacular and I really like the lawn ornamentation. Wonderful post, thanks for the tour. 🙂

    • Jean permalink*
      January 31, 2010 11:20 am

      Noelle and Rebecca, Yes the blue poppies are beautiful and such a treat to see. (The other place I’ve seen them in bloom is Butchart Gardens in BC.) I have to admit, though, that the Bird of Paradise is my favorite; I often dream about growing one as a houseplant.

      Noelle, it would be worth planning a trip to the UK just around getting to Kew. Whenever I’m in London, I try to set aside one day just for Kew. I hope you get there.

  6. January 30, 2010 7:56 pm

    Interesting how your perception of Kew changed in between visits, Jean, as your expertise and experience as a gardener grew. Your observations are spot on.

    I dream of visiting Kew–a friend who moved to NS recently from the UK worked there AND at the Eden Project, and is a complete inspiration to me. I was lucky enough to see some of those wonderful African sculptures in two very different gardens: The Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario, and Powell Gardens in Kansas City, Missouri.

    • Jean permalink*
      January 31, 2010 11:22 am

      Jodi, Imagine spending your work life in this kind of beauty everyday! Wow!! I hadn’t realized that the African Stone Sculptures were part of a traveling exhibit. I imagine that your view of them could change depending on how the host garden placed them in the landscape, so it must have been fun to see them in two different gardens.

  7. January 30, 2010 11:07 pm

    It does sound and look like a beautiful place. I love the statues of the children playing leap frog. I can’t wait to go back sometime to London and other parts of the UK to see some of these gardens I keep reading about.

    • Jean permalink*
      January 31, 2010 11:24 am

      Catherine, The last time I was in England and France, I didn’t plan it as a garden tour, but when I got home and looked at my photos, I realized that’s what it had turned into. The next time, I’m going to plan my trip just around visiting gardens!

  8. January 30, 2010 11:13 pm

    Jean, I love Kew as well. It was wonderful when I was living in London, to visit at any time of the year. Knowing my love for formality, I was drawn to the Queens Gardens at Kew Palace. But the highlight wwas seeing a carpet of snowdrops on a hill at the foot of a little temple, gorgeous!

    • Jean permalink*
      January 31, 2010 11:25 am

      Deborah, I’m trying to imagine living close enough to these gardens to visit them whenever I wanted. What a dream! The question is how I would ever get anything else done.

  9. January 30, 2010 11:56 pm

    Jean, Your photo of the glasshouse is fabulous and dwarfs the one at Smith College! I would love to be there strolling through Kew gardens along the pathway you show and to visit those trees. I too would want to stop and take notes and carefully look over the order beds… then step inside the conservatory… I will dream of it! I have Andrea Wulf’s ‘The Brother Gardeners’ in mind for a next read. Thanks for the reminder. ;>)

    • Jean permalink*
      January 31, 2010 11:29 am

      Carol, Not only is the Palm House huge, it is only one of several glass houses at Kew and it is not the largest (that honor goes to the Temperate House). Another of the large glass houses, the Princess of Wales Conservatory, includes 10 different types of climates. (On the other hand, there’s something to be said for smaller local gems that can be visited without flying across an ocean first!)

  10. January 31, 2010 3:54 pm

    Jean, I enjoyed your post, as always.

  11. January 31, 2010 7:02 pm

    Your visits to the Kew look like a day spent in heaven. How I would love to visit one day. I had to laugh at your comment about your mouth hanging open, as my fiance teases me about this when I am particularly taken with something. It is interesting how differently we study things as we gain more knowledge. Thank you for sharing these beautiful images, I just love the trees and Stokesia laevis.

    • Jean permalink*
      January 31, 2010 9:13 pm

      Liisa, These were indeed days spent in heaven. I didn’t get there the first time until I was fifty, so it’s something for you to look forward to. Thanks for identifying the Stokesia for me 🙂

  12. February 1, 2010 10:31 am

    I have heard a lot about this world famous garden. Thanks for sharing some of the beautiful snapshots here. I look forward to more pictures during your next visit there.

  13. February 1, 2010 10:52 am

    We are lucky enough to live just 30 miles from Kew. The glass house is one of the most incredible places to visit with such an array of plants….and and atmosphere all of it’s own, which is wonderful here in the UK when it is below freezing!

  14. February 1, 2010 3:13 pm

    Jean I agree Kew gardens is a wonderful place to visit.

    If anyone would like to see some more of Kew Gardens go to youtube and type in Kew Gardens and you should be able to see a few good videos from there.

  15. February 1, 2010 5:20 pm

    It is a lovely garden – lots of variety. I must visit again soon as I haven’t seen the new walkway either.

    • Jean permalink*
      February 1, 2010 11:38 pm

      Autumn Belle, Kew is justly famous, as I think Stuart, Rosie and Easy Gardener would all attest. It really is a wonderful place to visit.

      Stuart, I’m so envious of your proximity to Kew. I would love to be able to visit in different seasons of the year.

      Rosie, Thanks for the tip about the youtube videos.

      Easy Gardener, I must admit I am a bit trepidatious about the treetop walkway; I have some problems with heights. But it just seems too wonderful to pass up.

  16. February 2, 2010 4:55 am

    Looks lovely, all we need now is a dry day in London to go over and visit them.

  17. February 2, 2010 6:38 pm

    I enjoyed your post. I agree you can’t find more beauty than gardening and artwork combined. I loved the leapfrog!

    • Jean permalink*
      February 2, 2010 8:34 pm

      Sunny, The day I took most of these photos was one of those classic English days with alternating showers and “sunny intervals.” I spent the showers inside the glass houses and the sunny intervals out in the garden. I think many of my photos show raindrops on the flowers, but I see that none of these do.

      Amy, the leapfrog game was my favorite, too; hard to believe it was all carved from stone.

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