When it comes to welcoming the change of seasons in London, there’s nowhere better than the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew. The horticultural haven spans a 250 year history and, boasting over 300 acres, is London’s largest UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over 20 years after acquiring the site in 1731, the Prince and dowager Princess of Wales created a garden for exotic plants. By 1769, the garden was home to 3,400 plant species.
Today, there’s more than 30,000. There’s no doubt that Kew Gardens has made and continues to make a significant contribution to the study of botany.
From blossom in Spring to autumnal colours in the arboretum, Kew Gardens is a botanical escape from Central London that’s worth visiting multiple times of the year. While the gardens are home to many hidden pieces of landscape design to find at your own pace, there are a few popular things to do at Kew that absolutely need to feature on your list.
1. Explore The Palm House
Kew is famous around the world for its impressive glasshouses which include plant species that are endangered and extinct in the natural world. Constructed in 1844, The Palm House is an important resource for the Gardens’ scientists, and for visitors, it’s almost like stepping into a humid, lush jungle. Push past the giant leaves and climb the beautiful Victorian spiral staircases to get a glimpse of the top of the canopy. It goes without saying that this spot is one for the ‘gram.
2. Visit The Prince of Wales Conservatory
The Prince of Wales is Kew Gardens’ patron and his namesake conservatory contains ten different climate zones. For fans of the indoor gardening and house plant trend, this Kew attraction is cacti and succulent heaven. Though, also worth admiring are the huge lily pads that can reach up to two metres in diameter. You’ll find more lily pads in The Waterlily House near The Palm House.
3. Have Tea at The Orangery
A trip to Kew isn’t complete without a slice of cake at The Orangery. The restaurant/cafe housed in this 18th century building also serves warm breakfasts and pastries. Its sunny patio is a great place to start or finish your day.
4. Get Inspired at The Plant Family Beds
If you know your visit to Kew will leave you feeling green fingered, The Plant Family Beds, a traditionally British walled garden is a must-visit. While the glass houses are botanical bliss, they’re not something you can realistically replicate back home. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden or allotment, this area of Kew has plants living alfresco in the Great British weather. If you prefer your veg plot over peonies and roses, the Student Vegetable Plots are in the same area. Get advice from first year Kew Diploma students and buy some produce grown on royal soil, if you’re lucky enough to visit when they’re doing a veg sale.
5. Wander the Treetop Walkway
For a very different view of a canopy of trees, ascend the 18 metre high Treetop Walkway that overlooks the Temperate House. Nestled in the arboretum, the contrast of trees and leaves with towering skyscrapers in the distance is an another must-see at Kew, especially during Autumn.
6. Discover The Temperate House
After years of renovation, the Temperate House reopened to the public in May 2018. At twice the size of the Palm House, it’s the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse. As the name suggests, plants from the temperate region (that’s Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific Islands) are safeguarded here.
Steeped in history and science, The Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew are as much an educational day out as they are a place to picnic, walk and breathe fresher air. Spend a few slow hours here and you’ll leave with a better connection to nature and the knowledge that you’ve made a small contribution to the protection of our planet’s biodiversity. Not bad for a Sunday, right?
Other things to do in the Borough of Richmond: Petersham Nurseries