Last updated on June 23, 2014
Kew Gardens is a place that seduces your senses with tropical palms and ancient pines. It’s a place that nourishes your mind and soul with lungfuls of richly oxygenated air as you stride through rose gardens and climb through swaying treetops. It’s a modern-day paradise and, quite unbelievably, it’s only ten miles away from central London.
What is Kew Gardens?
Created in 1759, Kew Gardens is 121 hectares (very, very big) of staggeringly beautiful landscapes and exotic glasshouses where you can roam free in an Eden of tropical plants from all over the world. It’s the sweetest-smelling World Heritage Centre on the planet and home to the world’s largest collection of living plants. It’s a place for outdoorsy types, adventurous kids, science buffs and anyone who goes weak at the knees at the site of a blossoming lotus flower or a 250 year old Corsican pine tree.
Welcome to the Jungle: The Impatient Dash to the Palm House
The first thing you see after handing over your £15 entry fee and getting attacked by a large and rather boisterous peacock is the iconic Palm House. Built in 1854, it floats on the grass like a breaching submarine – a clue, perhaps, to its maritime designers who were more used to building ships than giant greenhouses.
As tempting as it is to “sit down with the map and make a plan,” it’s almost impossible not to throw all of your belongings on the ground and run immediately, arms flailing and mouth agape, straight towards this wonderful structure. It’s an immediate and irresistible fix of wow.
Inside, you instantly become miniature as you wander through this indoor jungle, stooping below giant leaves that droop heavily on chunky stems.
The hiss of the water sprayers going off every few minutes sounds like snakes, the humidity fogs your mind.
Palms of Africa and the Indian Ocean mingle with tropical plants of Asia, Australasia and the Pacific…
The scale is overwhelming and your heart races as you hear croaks of frogs and chirping birds that ring through the canopy above. Above?! Wait, is that a staircase shooting up to the roof? Yes, it is!
You climb the spiral staircase and realise just how elaborate this building really is. It’s rusty iron, elaborate and distinctly Victorian – tropical, but in a very eccentric and English way.
You want to touch and feel the rivets and bolts that hold it together like a giant birdcage. You want to run like a child, swing like Tarzan, soar like a bird. You channel your inner Attenborough and settle for a photo.
The Hot and Steamy Stroll Around Waterlily House
As the heat of the Palm House encourages you back outside into the fresh air, a group gathers around a smaller greenhouse. You strip another layer off and hoist the heavy lead-laden door open. Inside it’s sauna hot and you can taste the pollen as you take deep, burning breaths.
Giant water lilies float like peanut butter cups on oil. Only the pink lotus flowers cut through the thickness of it all. The drenched heat quickly gets to you. You take one last photo and bolt back out into the fresh air… my-oh-my, that’s some fresh air.
The Feeling of Space and Freedom as you Take to the Footpaths
The paths are quiet and you get lost among rose bushes and towering trees. You wonder where everyone else is, why it’s so quiet. “Are we lost? I hope so!”
You stumble upon familiar scenes. Scenes of Tuscan olive trees and slender Cypress spires; scenes of Provence, with cistus and lavender… it’s the Mediterranean Garden, Kew’s depiction of the region’s dramatic natural habitat. It’s wonderful.
The Feeling of Joy when you find the Treetop Walkway
It’s like walking through a well-groomed Amazonian forest, only with London’s skyline peaking through the distance. You sense the gentle sway of the walkway beneath you, momentarily feeling the urge to jump and swing from branch to branch. You look down…
The wind picks up and you pretend not to notice…
An Italian family asks you to take a photo of them – “Cheeeese-ah!”
You take in the views and realise that there’s still so much to see…
Too much to see in one day…
You discover a Mexican desert and frantically run around to take photos – the steward asks you to leave so they can prepare the space for a private function. You wonder how much it would cost to rent this place for a party.
The Great Surrender
Your back aches and your feet throb, but you’re not ready to leave just yet. You follow a sign to the Secluded Garden and discover the Gin and Tonics Garden – it’s everything you ever dreamed of. Pots of mint and basil plants fill the small glass house with herbaceous smells of spiced summer. Dread-locked barmen slowly mash up leaves in mortar and pestles… it’s casual. You order The Kew-cumber – made with No.3 London Dry Gin. It’s weak. You knock it back in three thirsty pulls. “Was there even any gin in that?”
You’re done. The rest will have to wait ’til next time. You stumble your way through the Japanese rock garden – maybe there was gin in there after all – and back out into the real world.
“How much did they say the annual passes are?”