The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are 250 years old, but there’s plenty here for the modern outdoor adventurer. You can still wander the old Victorian Palm House and indulge in a little old-fashioned promenading like someone in a BBC costume drama, but these gardens – originally developed in the back yard of the royal palace favoured most by George III – are one of two national bases for research and education into botanical studies. So while you’re seeking out the luscious flora (including the giant, stinking Titan Arum in the Princess of Wales Conservatory) there are scientists beavering away in labs and offices, out of sight.
The stunning glasshouses are favourite strolling spots within the grounds, featuring some impressive Victorian structures – including the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse, known as Temperate House – and some lovely later additions. Inside each of them the climate is maintained to nurture everything from the world’s largest water lilies to delicate Alpine flowers to tropical blooms.
Those with an adventurous streak, and a head for heights, should climb up to the Tree Top Walkway, which stands at 18 metres tall and winds it’s way through, well, the tree tops. Once you’ve come back to earth, stroll down to the Chinese Pagoda, which was built in 1762 and towers over the southern end of the Gardens.
Given the exceptional upkeep and wide variety of fauna, you’re sure to be inspired. And if the green stuff is doing the trick, try seeking out the sculptures, which feature Henry Moore’s ‘Reclining Mother and Child’ in a stunning setting that changes with the light of each season.
There’s plenty to do at Kew. In fact, the art alone could take up your entire visit – see the Eduardo Paolozzi sculpture A Maximis Ad Minima and visit the Marianne North Gallery and the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, all included in the main entry price.
Whenever you visit Kew Gardens, there’s something in bloom. The website has a dedicated what to see this week section, so even in autumn or winter, you can be assured you won’t just see a lot of old twigs.
The Hive is a unique, multi-sensory experience designed to highlight the extraordinary life of bees. A feat of British engineering, it stands 17 metres tall, set in a wildflower meadow. Here you can consider the complex relationship between plants and their pollinators.
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