Large glass conservatory with lawns and flower beds
Gardens,  London,  Sunday Stills

In for a penny: a visit to Kew Gardens

Botany, the science of the vegetable kingdom, is one of the most attractive, most useful, and most extensive departments of human knowledge. It is, above every other, the science of beauty.

Joseph Paxton

The Gardens at Kew in west London date back to the mid 18th century, when they were founded by George III’s mother Princess Augusta. It was back then that they acquired the famous Chinese Pagoda, one of several oriental buildings designed by Sir William Chambers, who had spent time travelling and studying the architecture of East Asia.

George later employed Capability Brown to create a landscaped park and appointed a director, Joseph Banks. The latter dispatched collectors across the globe to gather rare, unusual, or simply interesting botanical specimens.

In 1840 the gardens (always named in the plural, as they were formed from two separate estates, Kew and Richmond) were handed over to the state. Under their new director, Sir William Hooker, they flourished; I choose the word advisedly as being very appropriate for a botanical collection! Hooker oversaw the building of the beautiful glasshouses, the Palm House and Temperate House. And the Museum, the Department of Economic Botany, the Library, and the Herbarium were all founded during his time.

Large glass conservatory seen through trees
The Palm House

Today the gardens’ plant collections are the most diverse of any botanic garden in the world. Some of the plants are extinct in the wild. Others represent threatened floras from different habitats around the world. There are Japanese, Alpine and Mediterranean gardens; woodlands, lawns and more formal areas; and several new glasshouses including the Princess of Wales Conservatory and Alpine House.

Famously in the past, entrance to the gardens cost just one penny (and an old penny at that, which equates to 0.4 of a present-day penny!) These days it costs far more and is no longer a cheap day out; but there is so much to see that Kew Gardens remain a wonderful place to visit. We don’t go as often as we might however, considering that they are only a few miles from our house, as the relatively high cost makes them no longer a place to pop into regularly.

So what’s in the garden?

But when we do go I always come away with plenty of photos. So here for this week’s Sunday Stills, hosted by Natalie with the theme of ‘In the garden’, is an album of photos from our most recent visit. As always, click on any photo to see them all in a full-size slide show.

I live near Kew and visit from time to time; these photos were taken in October 2015


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