Located in the south west London borough of Richmond, Kew Gardens is a gardener’s paradise. Attracting more than 1.35 million visitors annually, the 121-hectare site houses the world’s largest and most diverse botanical collection and contains up to 30,000 different species of plant life.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Royal Botanic Gardens (its official name) was founded in 1840, although its origins can be traced back to 1772, when the royal estates of Kew and Richmond were merged.
The historic suburban district of Kew has been home to a number of royal residents for centuries. In 1501, Henry VII built Sheen Palace (also known as Richmond Palace) as his royal residence. Courtiers visiting Richmond Palace began to settle in Kew in their own luxurious houses. Mary Tudor’s house had been built there by 1522.
In 1600, the land that later became Kew Gardens was simply Kew Field and was part of a new, private estate. In the 17th century, Henry Capell, the 1st Baron Capell of Tewkesbury, formed the exotic garden at Kew Park. It was further extended by the widow of Frederick, Prince of Wales, Augusta.
After the estates of Richmond and Kew merged in 1772, architect William Chambers designed and built several garden structures. George III further improved the gardens, including adding the brick structure known as Kew Palace.
Some of the earlier plants came from botanist William Coys’ walled garden in North Ockendon. The plants grew in a haphazard fashion until Francis Masson was appointed as the first collector in 1771.
Kew Gardens were declared a national botanical garden in 1840, thanks to the dedication of the Royal Horticultural Society, whose president, William Cavendish, had pushed for the move. Kew Gardens’ director, William Hooker, increased the size of the gardens to 30 hectares and the arboretum to 109 hectares.
Today, in addition to the 30,000 species of plants, the herbarium (one of the largest on the planet) has more than seven million preserved specimens. There is also a massive library containing around 750,000 volumes and an illustrations collection with some 175,000 drawings and prints of plants.
Sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Kew Gardens is one of the top tourist attractions in London and is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens – a botanical research and educational body that has 750 employees.
Science plays a very important part in the continued existence of Kew Gardens. It is an important global resource, with its unique combination of scientific expertise, extensive collections, databases and global partnerships giving it a leading role, providing plant and fungi information.
Scientists say the core purpose of Kew Gardens’ scientific research stems from the fact that everyone’s lives depend on plants and fungi.
The Temperate House was built in the 19th century. Today, it remains the largest Victorian glasshouse still in existence. It was part of a successful experiment in the 19th century to grow and cultivate rubber trees for the first time outside South America.
In 2013, a £41 million, five-year refurbishment of the Temperate House began. It was finally completed this year and the attraction reopened to the public on 6th May.
The Grade I listed building houses a collection of temperate zone plants that have international significance, as they include the most threatened and the rarest plants in the world.
Other attractions include the treetop walkway, enabling visitors to stroll 18 feet above the ground on a 660ft-long walkway through the tree canopies of a woodland glade.
Kew Gardens hosts a variety of events for all the family. The dragon hunt, called Here Be Dragons, is running until 30th September. Participants can hunt for dragon sculptures around the gardens, with trail leaflets available offering helpful tips.
On weekends and Bank Holidays until 2nd September, visitors can marvel at a breath-taking aerial show called Harmonic, by Cirque Bijou high above the ground in Temperate House. The performance combines aerial skills, with a haunting musical score to highlight biodiversity and the importance of the relationship between plants and people.
Join the Botanical Supper Club for a series of events throughout summer 2018. Dine in splendour overlooking the Palm House Pond, where you can enjoy an eight-course meal, combined with a tour or a talk from an expert guide. Forthcoming events include an English Wine Supper hosted by the award-winning wine-maker, Bolney Wine, on 30th August from 7.30pm.
Family-friendly walks are taking place until 2nd September, led by Gnomus, the Caretaker of the Earth, who will lead groups around Temperate House, sharing tales of the fascinating plants housed inside.
If you haven’t been already, Kew Gardens is a must-visit attraction!
If you’re planning to visit beautiful Kew Gardens, a minibus from H&H Van Hire is an ideal way for groups to travel – everyone can arrive together, you can save money on travel costs and you can enjoy companionship on the journey. Please contact us for further details of our comfortable nine, 14 and 17-seater minibuses.