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Where

Kew Gardens are the most complete public gardens in the world.  Covering 300 acre, the gardens are full of varieties of tree, shrub and flower. There are 38,000 different plant species at Kew, some entirely extinct in the wild.  Hidden among the trees are some historic buildings including Kew Palace, the Great Pagoda and the Victorian glass houses. From the beautifully tended parkland there are views up and down the river and across to Syon House.     In the 18th century Kew was part of the royal estates that stretched as far as Richmond.  Princess Augusta, the mother of George III, had the idea to create a botanical garden in the grounds of Kew Palace where she lived. George III commissioned William Chambers to add a series of follies and outhouses to the gardens.  The most striking of these buildings is the Great Pagoda,a ten-storey octagonal tower built in 1762, inspired by a trip to China that Chambers took in his youth.  The botanical garden’s reputation was established in the late-18th century when its keeper, Sir Joseph Banks, the British naturalist and plant hunter, planted specimens from all continents.  The steamy ‘Aroid House’ was built by Nash in 1836 to house plants from tropical rainforests.  However, Kew Gardens only really came into its own in 1841, when the royal gardens were donated to the nation by the crown, opened to the public and expanded by more than 200 acres.  Sir William Hooker, the first director, set Kew on a scientific and research footing.  He also commissioned Decimus Burton to create Kew’s two glasshouses, the Palm House and Temperate House.   The spectacular Palm House, built between 1844-48, is the finest surviving Victorian glass and iron structure in the country.  It was originally heated by coal, supplied by an underground railway from the Campanile, 100 yards away by Victoria Gate.  The basement has now been converted into a display of marine life.  The larger Temperate House, built in the 1860’s, is more conventional in structure. Covering nearly 48,000 square feet, this is ideal for growing rare and exotic trees. It’s oldest plant, the Chilean wine palm, was brought back as a seed in 1846. Joseph Hooker, Sir William’ son, took over as director in 1865 and established the Jodrell Laboratory to enhance Kew’s research credentials. He encouraged the artist Marianne North to set up a gallery at Kew to display her collection of botanical paintings based on her world travels between 1871 and 1885.  The Marianne North Gallery, completed in 1882, contains her collection of 832 paintings.  Today the Royal Botanic Gardens are world-renowned as a centre for horticultural research, and changes are still being made.  In the 20th century Kew Gardens expanded into Wakehurst Place in Sussex, where a range of plants benefit from the heavier rainfall and stable climate of the South Downs.  In 1985 the ‘Princess of Wales Conservatory’ was opened at Kew, with Kew’s collection of tropical herbaceous plants.  Museum No.1, opened in 1998, opposite the Palm House, displays Kew’s ‘economic botanic’ collection. Amongst the wood and plant materials which have been made into useful materials for man, are a fishing net collected by the explorer David Livingstone and a walking stick brought home by Sir Joseph Banks. Admission charge

Additional Details

  • Nearest River Boat Station:Kew Pier
  • Nearest Railway Station:Kew Gardens,Kew Bridge
  • Nearest Underground Station:Kew Gardens
  • Opening Times:Daily 09:30-19:30 in midsummer, 09:30-16:15 in midwinter. Last admission 30 minutes before close. Closed: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day., 1 Jan. Free maps are available from Victoria Gate

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