Friday, 2 July 2010

Kew Gardens

The Pagoda

A family outing to Kew Gardens. We parked by the river and entered the gardens at Brentford Gate and then made a leisurely clockwise circuit.

The gardens originated in 1759 when Princess Augusta, mother of George III, started a 9 acre garden around the royal palace. So it was fitting that the first thing we saw was the royal palace. It was built in 1631 and leased by the royal family in 1728. George III lived there from 1802.

A little further along is the Orangery, a building of 1761 by Sir William Chambers who designed most of the buildings to be seen at Kew - including the celebrated Pagoda. It was used originally to grow oranges, but this use lapsed. When orange-growing was reintroduced it was found to be damaging the fabric of the building so it again ceased; the Orangery is now a restaurant.

Just beyond the Orangery is another handsome structure: the Nash Conservatory. It was originally one of four pavilions designed by John Nash for Buckingham Palace and was moved to Kew in 1836 and then adapted to be a glass house.

Now we focused more on the plants and visited the Secluded Garden and then went into the Princess of Wales Conservatory. The initial Wet Tropics zone had a wonderful temporary Butterflies, bugs and beasties event which was just wonderful. We joined groups of school kids in rapt admiration of the dozen or so species of tropical butterflies. Eventually the heat and humidity forced us out.

We then walked round the lake opposite Decimus Burton's great Palm House and climbed the spiral staircase for a high level tour of the central area.

Then round the back of the Palm House, through the newish Rose Garden to the Waterlily House. This small building contained a selection of startlingly beautiful lilies.

Now we walked along the long grassy Pagoda Vista, the vista being spoiled only by a temporary marquee which had been erected half way along. We passed the Temperate House, again by Decimus Burton and the largest surviving Victorian glass structure.

After a pause for lunch we reached and admired the Pagoda. It is 50m high and dates from 1762. It was built apparently as a surprise for Princess Augusta. It must have been quite difficult to keep its construction secret!

Round the corner is the beautiful Japanese Gateway with its lovely Japanese gardens around it.

From here we slightly doubled back to find the Treetop walkway.

This fascinating construction, 18m high, offers views of the treetops and back over the Temperate House. At ground level you can descend to the Rhizotron and find out about the roots of trees.

We however carried on to the lake which dates from 1861. We crossed the sinuous Sackler Crossing, the work of John Pawson, opened in 2006. The lake was home to an interesting collection of ducks and I was especially struck by the orange-beaked Red-crested Pochard.

Conditions: very hot (mid 20s), but with a relieving breeze much of the time.

Distance: we managed to walk nearly 5 miles altogether.

Rating: five stars. So much to see in such a beautiful environment.

Butterfly of the day

I can't identify this beautiful spotted Swallowtail, but it was the most successful of my efforts to photograph the butterflies in the Princess of Wales Conservatory.


I am very conscious that this account focuses mainly on the built environment. It is a special interest of mine, obviously, but it also gives the Gardens structure, variety and interest - like sculpture in a smaller garden, or follies in an 18th century park. That said, one could describe another, very different-seeming, walk by reference to trees (of which of course there are many magnificent specimens) or flower plantings (likewise) and that must be a project for the future.

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