22/04/2024

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Kew Gardens: Detailed Guide To London’s Botanical Wonderland (Review)

15 min read
Kew Gardens: Detailed Guide To London’s Botanical Wonderland (Review)

Kew Gardens, formally known as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, offers a remarkable window into the world of plants. Located in southwest London, this UNESCO World Heritage site provides an expansive retreat from the city’s bustle, with a rich history that dates back to the 18th century when it began as an exotic garden at Kew Park. Over time, it has evolved into a top-tier botanical research institution and a much-loved public garden.

As a plant lover and rare plant collector myself – you can visit my plant blog, Zany Plant World, I was so excited to visit the Kew Gardens in London. It has been on my travel bucket list to see their impressive plant collections and the iconic glasshouses.

Beyond its horticultural wonders, Kew Gardens plays a crucial role in plant conservation, research, and education. It serves as a resource for learning, with a variety of programs that engage audiences of all ages and contribute to conserving plant species and habitats.

Here are the key takeaways about Kew Gardens in London, UK:

  • Kew Gardens is a renowned botanical garden offering a vast array of plant diversity and historical structures.
  • It is a leading center for botanical research, conservation, and education.
  • The gardens are accessible to the public, providing educational exhibitions and seasonal attractions.
Ryazan Tristram at Kew Gardens in London UK
Ryazan Tristram at Kew Gardens in London UK

Kew Gardens History and Significance

You will discover how Kew Gardens evolved from a royal retreat to a globally significant botanical research site. From its royal patronage to becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kew’s history is as rich as its collection of plants.

Kew Gardens London UK
Kew Gardens London UK

Founding and Development

Kew Gardens was established in the 18th century against a backdrop of plant exploration and scientific discovery. In 1759, Princess Augusta initiated the creation of the original nine-acre botanic garden, setting in motion the foundation that would become the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 

Sir Joseph Banks joined Captain James Cook’s exploration of the South Seas from 1768 to 1771, and on his return to England, he became the first director of the Kew Gardens to make it the finest Botanic garden in the country.

In 1840, Kew Gardens was opened to the public, and it was one of the main sources of funding to run vital programs of the park. Kew Gardens became the leading hub of the global plant exchange network with the leadership of its previous director Joseph Dalton Hooker. Supporting programs from different parts of the globe by providing seedlings that various eco-logical projects and commercial industries.

As you explore, you’ll notice the landscape’s transformation under notable figures like Lancelot Brown famously known as Capability Brown, who is known for shaping much of Britain’s pastoral landscape.

King George III expanded Kew’s mission, joining it with his royal estate – The Kew Palace, thus adding to the historic interest and turning Kew into a more significant botanical endeavor.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Kew Gardens UNESCO World Heritage SIte
Kew Gardens UNESCO World Heritage SIte

Your appreciation of Kew Gardens will deepen as you learn it has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003. This prestigious status reflects Kew’s exceptional global significance for its concentration on research, education, and conservation in botany and mycology for over 260 years.

At Kew, you are walking amidst a living library of over 50,000 plant species, making it one of the largest and most diverse collections in the world. The designation by UNESCO underscores not just the historical and aesthetic importance of the site but also Kew’s ongoing contribution to understanding and conserving plant life on a global scale.

Gardens and Structures

Kew Gardens is renowned for its expansive collection of glasshouses, historic buildings, and beautifully arranged outdoor spaces. Your exploration will reveal architectural marvels along with nature’s exquisite handiwork.

Glasshouses and Conservatories

Palm House

The Palm House at the Kew Gardens in London UK
The Palm House at the Kew Gardens in London, UK

This iconic glasshouse is a rainforest under glass. home to a diverse range of tropical plants like palms, cycads, and trees. It’s a Victorian architectural masterpiece, measuring 110m long, 30m wide and 65m high. It has an elegant spiral staircase that leads to a metal balcony walkway with wrought iron balustrades that will let you take in the grandeur of this Victorian gem.

Temperate House

The Temperate House in Kew Gardens in London UK
The Temperate House in Kew Gardens in London UK

As the world’s largest surviving Victorian glasshouse, this structure shelters plants from temperate regions. They thrive here, providing you with a glimpse into ecosystems from Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. This ornate Victorian glasshouse is twice the size of the Palm House.

Orangery

The Orangery in Kew Gardens London UK
The Orangery in Kew Gardens London UK

Constructed in 1761, and designed by Sir William Chambers this elegant building, was formerly used to overwinter citrus trees and other ornamental plants. Even if it was refurbished to add extra massive windows, the light levels were not enough for the plants to thrive inside, hence now hosts a café. While you enjoy refreshments, admire its classical architecture and the surrounding kitchen garden. 

Princess of Wales Conservatory

The Princess of Wales Conservatory in Kew Gardens London UK
The Princess of Wales Conservatory in Kew Gardens London UK

This is probably my favourite glasshouse in Kew Garden. Named after the previous Princess of Wales – Princess Augusta who was the founder of the Kew Gardens was opened by Princess Diana in 1987, who inherited the same title of Princess of Wales.

The conservatory architecture was by Gordon Wilson, with an efficient design to maximize the collection of light and heat from the sun. The multi-level triangular shape of the conservatory makes it unique and effective in keeping the heat and humidity. This is where you’ll find ten different climate zones, from arid to moist tropical, housing a range of plant life, including orchids and carnivorous plants.

Kew Palace and Historic Buildings

Kew Palace

Kew Palace at the Kew Gardens London UK
Kew Palace at the Kew Gardens London UK

Built in 1631, Although not as grand as other British royal palaces, this intimate royal residence offers a unique view into the lives of its former royal inhabitants like George II and George III. It’s the oldest building within the gardens. The Kew Palace was an important refuge for King George III away from demanding court life. He and his wife Queen Charlotte spent many happy summers at the Kew Palace.  

Great Pagoda

Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens in London UK
Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens in London UK

Erected in 1762, as a gift for Princess Augusta – The founder of the Kew Gardens, the Great Pagoda stands ten stories high and offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding gardens. It’s an example of the chinoiserie style popular in the 18th century. It was a symbol of fashion, wealth, and power, however, it was a hit-and-miss for the local residents around Kew Gardens due to its towering height.

Outdoor Gardens and Landscapes

Here, you’ll traverse a variety of landscapes:

Arboretum

Treetop Walkway in Kew Gardens London UK
Treetop Walkway in Kew Gardens London UK

A 19th-century term derived from Latin which means – a place with trees. The Arboretum in Kew was developed by Sir William Hooker ( the pioneer director of Kew Gardens). A living library of over 14,000 trees, some of which are the oldest and largest specimens found in the region. The best way to enjoy the Arboretum is to experience the Treetop Walkway which circles the gigantic tree canopies 18m above ground and is accessibility friendly. 

Bamboo Garden

Venture through this dense collection of bamboo and witness the serenity of the Japanese Minka House among the fastest-growing woody plants in the world. This garden was created in 1892 near the river enticing the gardeners who were delighted to see the bamboo’s elegantly coloured stems and leaves. 

Grass Garden

Appreciate the diversity of grass species that are meticulously maintained and showcased in the Grass Garden. The grasses are temperate and tropical cereal cultivars that are used for biofuel and mankind’s food and drinks.

Plant Collections and Horticulture

Biggest Queen Anthurium in Kew Gardens London UK
Biggest Queen Anthurium (background) in Kew Gardens London UK

Kew Gardens is recognized for its comprehensive plant collections showcasing an extraordinary diversity of flora. As you explore, you’ll encounter exquisitely maintained gardens and some of the rarest plant species in the world, reflecting Kew’s commitment to botanical preservation and horticultural excellence.

Living Plant Collection

Some of the Orchids collection in Kew Gardens London UK
Some of the Orchids collection in Kew Gardens London UK

At Kew Gardens, you are immersed in a living library of plants, including 8.5 million items from across the globe. This collection encompasses an impressive 95% of vascular plant genera, making it one of the most exhaustive of its kind. Noteworthy orchids and other rare specimens are diligently cared for, serving as both an aesthetic marvel and a vital resource for research and conservation.

Masdevallia Ignea Orchid from Colombia in Kew Gardens London UK
Masdevallia Ignea Orchid from Colombia in Kew Gardens London UK
  • Diversity: Kew’s living collection covers an expansive range of plant families, underlining the garden’s role in plant science and horticulture.
  • Conservation: The living plants are not only for display but are also part of significant efforts to conserve species at risk.

Arboretum and Horticultural Practices

Arboretum: Your walk through Kew’s arboretum introduces you to a vast garden of trees. This area is a testament to the changing seasons and Kew’s dedication to plant cultivation, preservation, and horticultural practice. It mirrors the global ecological variety and showcases living plants that adapt to the UK’s climate.

Economic Botany: Kew’s dedication doesn’t stop at display and conservation. There is also a focus on plants’ practical uses, which you can learn about in the economic botany collections.

Horticulture: Kew’s expert horticulturists use a blend of traditional methods and modern techniques to maintain the health and vibrancy of the gardens. Their work ensures that each plant, whether it is a common species or a valuable rarity, receives the care it requires to thrive.

Practices: From soil management to propagation, pruning to landscape design, Kew’s horticultural team applies meticulous practices to sustain the beauty and health of the gardens.

Conservation and Science

Your exploration of Kew Gardens’ role in global conservation efforts leads you to a discovery of their dedicated scientific pursuit to safeguard plant diversity. Driven by a blend of traditional botanical research and innovative science, Kew Gardens stands at the forefront of global conservation strategies.

Millennium Seed Bank

Cacao fruits in Kew Gardens London UK
Cacao fruits in Kew Gardens London UK

The Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) is a vital resource in the fight against plant extinction. You’ll find the MSB harboring seeds from across the globe, serving as an insurance policy against the loss of plant species in the wild. This conservation effort emphasizes the importance of ex situ conservation, where seeds are collected and stored under controlled conditions, ensuring their viability for the future.

  • Stored Species: Over 2,400 species are conserved, representing multiple ecosystems.
  • Conservation Goal: To bank the seeds of 25% of the world’s plant species by 2025.

Kew Science and Research

Water Hyacinth as biofuel study in Kew Gardens London
Water Hyacinth Biofuel Study in Kew Gardens London

Your interest in Kew Science reveals a network of scientific investigations unrivaled in their scope. With the possession of over 8.5 million items, Kew’s Herbarium, the largest of its kind, serves as a bedrock for botanical research. Kew’s scientists apply a meticulous approach to their work, combining field studies (in situ) and controlled environment research (ex situ) to cultivate a robust understanding of plant diversity and conservation.

  • Primary Aims: To monitor, conserve, and evaluate the status of the world’s plant species.
  • Research Collaborations: Kew engages with international partners to enhance the global impact of its research.

Kew’s research extends into the identification of new plant and fungal species, a task that underscores the depth of Kew’s scientific inquiry. This dedication to discovering new species often highlights organisms that are rare, sometimes found in extreme environments, and potentially endangered.

Educational Programs and Exhibitions

Coffee Arabica research for food emergencies in Kew Garden London
Coffee Arabica research for food emergencies in Kew Garden London

Kew Gardens is not just a place of natural beauty but also a hub for learning and cultural enrichment. Here, you will find an array of educational programs and captivating exhibitions designed to deepen your understanding of plant science and conservation.

Educational Outreach

Your educational journey at Kew Gardens offers a valuable mix of theoretical knowledge and practical experience. The institution runs MSc programmes in partnership with various universities, providing you with access to scientific collections and laboratory facilities. If you aspire to a doctorate, PhD opportunities are available, offering a chance to conduct research in world-class environments. For younger audiences, Kew engages children in the wonders of botany through tailored educational materials and activities.

Public Exhibitions and Galleries

Experience the art of nature through Kew’s diverse exhibitions. Galleries like the Marianne North Gallery exhibit botanical art, showcasing plants and landscapes from around the world. Public exhibitions are a consistent feature at Kew; for instance, from 20 October 2023 to 7 April 2024, you can immerse yourself in Mat Collishaw’s exhibition, Petrichor, among others.

Kew also encourages budding talents through competitions, such as the Young Botanical Artist competition. Through these engagements, Kew offers an inclusive platform to appreciate and celebrate the natural world through various mediums.

Visitor Information

When planning your visit to Kew Gardens, it’s important to consider ticket options, opening times, available facilities, and how to make the most of your trip.

📍Address: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond TW9 3AF
🎟️Find Tickets – Book in Advance: Kew Gardens Admission Ticket
🌟 Ratings: 4.6 / 5
🛌🏻 Accommodation Nearby: Coach & Horses Hotel | Maids Guest Rooms

Tickets and Opening Times

  • Tickets: You can purchase tickets online to secure your entry and potentially save on admission costs. Members enjoy unlimited entry throughout the year.
  • Opening Times: The Gardens are open daily. Be attentive to seasonal variations in opening hours, typically from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the last entry one hour before closing.

Amenities and Facilities

Your experience at Kew Gardens is enhanced by various amenities:

Cafe at Kew Gardens London
Cafe at Kew Gardens London
  • Café & Restaurants: Options for dining or grabbing a quick drink are available throughout the gardens.
Gift Shop at Kew Gardens in London
Gift Shop at Kew Gardens in London
  • Gift Shop: Find souvenirs and exclusive merchandise to commemorate your visit.
Kids Play Area Garden at Kew Garden London
Kids Play Area Garden at Kew Garden London
  • Kids Play area: A safe place where kids can have fun and play around.
  • Toilets: Facilities are conveniently situated around the gardens.
Parking at the Kews garden in London
Parking at the Kews Garden in London

Remember, parking is limited, so public transport is recommended. The Kew Gardens car park is located at this postcode (TW9 3AF) Ferry Lane, near Brentford Gate. You can access it via a small single-car lane, so keep your eye peeled for the turn.

Kew Gardens is located in the London ULEZ zone, so check your car if it’s exempted or not. You can find more details here about ULEZ.

Planning Your Visit

Kew Explorer Land Train at Kew Gardens London
Kew Explorer Land Train at Kew Gardens London

Here’s how to ensure a fulfilling visit:

  • Peak Times: Plan to visit during off-peak hours to avoid crowds.
  • Kew Explorer Land Train: Consider a tour with the land train for an overview of the gardens.
  • Membership: Think about becoming a member for special discounts and privileges, including exclusive events.

Utilize the information provided to enjoy a seamless and memorable experience at Kew Gardens.

Events and Seasonal Attractions

At Kew Gardens, your calendar is filled with a variety of annual events and seasonal highlights that showcase the garden’s natural beauty and provide educational and entertaining experiences.

Annual Events

Christmas at Kew Gardens London UK
Christmas at Kew Gardens London UK

Christmas at Kew is a standout tradition, lighting up the gardens with stunning illuminations to celebrate the festive season. You can expect a spellbinding trail that transforms the landscape into a winter wonderland.

Another perennial favorite is the Orchid Festival, which usually takes place early in the year. You’ll witness the Princess of Wales Conservatory transform with the vibrant colors and exotic scents of these stunning flowers, celebrating the diversity of orchids.

Seasonal Highlights

During spring, summer, autumn, and winter, Kew Gardens presents an array of Seasonal Highlights. From the fresh bloom of spring to the crisp air of winter, each season brings its own unique experience:

  • Spring: Witness the vivid blooming flowers and unfurling green leaves, complemented by the melodious sound of birdsong.
  • Summer: Enjoy daily tours, family-friendly activities, and the convenient Kew Explorer land train on weekends, offering informative journeys around the gardens.
  • Autumn: Engage with exhibitions like “Uprooted,” where you can delve deeper into the botanical world’s fascinating aspects.
  • Winter: Breathe in the crisp air with outdoor walks that showcase seasonal cheer, alongside bespoke workshops that allow you to get creative.

Attending these events and embracing the seasonal changes at Kew Gardens will enrich your understanding and appreciation for the diversity of plant life and the importance of conserving these natural treasures.

Transportation and Accessibility

When planning your visit to Kew Gardens, the ease of transportation and the provision of accessibility options allow for a comfortable journey. Several modes of transport are available, whether by train, tube, bus, or car, ensuring that your experience begins seamlessly.

Getting to Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens is well connected by various forms of public transportation.

  • Train: You may reach the gardens via Kew Bridge station, though it is worth noting that there is no level access at this station.
  • Tube: Kew Gardens station, the nearest tube station, is a short 500m walk from the Victoria Gate Entrance. This station is in Travelcard Zone 3, serviced by the District Line (Richmond branch) and the London Overground.

For convenience, bus routes like the 65 (heading towards Ealing Broadway) connect you directly from Richmond station to the Lion or Victoria Gate.

Considerations for Accessibility

Accessible travel to Kew Gardens is facilitated through several features:

  • Parking: If you are driving, there is an accessible/blue badge parking at Kew Gardens car park near Brentford Gate. Be aware that you cannot park along Kew Road.
  • Bus Connections: The Kew Gardens-Union Tpke station provides elevator access and connects with buses Q10 (to JFK Airport), Q37, Q46, Q60, QM21, X63, X64, and X68, accommodating different travel needs.

Remember to check the Richmond Council website for the latest updates on parking when planning your visit.

Map of Kew Gardens in London, UK:

HOW TO USE THIS MAP TO BOOK YOUR RESERVATIONS:

CLICK the YELLOW MARKER OR THE DROP DOWN MENU next to the title to see the various things to do and point of interest in this guide and CHOOSE your desired preview of the map, whether HOTELS & RENTALS, EXPERIENCES, RESTAURANTS OR OTHERS. Feel free to use the filters, number of guests, and your preferred dates. You can see more information about the different attractions (the GREEN MARKERS) when you click the icons, as well as finding your perfect accommodation that will suit your budget and location. You could also book your guided tours and restaurants using the map.

Frequently Asked Questions about Kew Gardens:

Exploring Kew Gardens can be a delightful experience. This FAQ section is designed to provide you with concise information to make your visit as enjoyable as possible.

How can I purchase tickets to Kew Gardens?

What are Kew Gardens’ opening times throughout the year?

From 14 November to 7 January, Kew Gardens is open daily from 10am to 3pm, with last entry at 2pm. It’s closed on 24 and 25 December. From 8 January to 31 January, the hours extend to 4pm, with the last entry at 3pm. In February, the Gardens maintain these hours.

What are some must-see attractions within Kew Gardens during the Christmas season?

During the festive season, Kew Gardens transforms with the addition of Christmas lights and holiday displays. The winter trail with illuminated installations is a visitor favourite.

Can you provide guidance on how to reach Kew Gardens via public transportation?

Kew Gardens is accessible by the London Underground via Kew Gardens Station (District Line) and London Overground. A number of bus routes also stop near the Gardens, and bike racks are available if you choose to cycle. For more details, you can check this article I wrote about the 5 Ways to Get from London to Kew Gardens (London, UK).

What is the historical significance of Kew Gardens?

Kew Gardens, established in 1759, has grown from a royal pleasure ground to a world-renowned botanical garden. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and plays a crucial role in plant conservation, preservation, and scientific research.

What unique features make Kew Gardens a renowned botanical garden?

Kew Gardens is celebrated for its extensive collection of living plants, historic glasshouses such as the Palm House, an arboretum, and the Kew Herbarium, which houses over seven million plant specimens. It’s also a center for botanical and mycological knowledge.

More Posts about London:

Kew Gardens- Detailed Guide to Londons Botanical Wonderland pin
Kew Gardens: Detailed Guide to London’s Botanical Wonderland

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryazan Tristram EverythingZany Author Bio

Ryazan Tristram

Travel Writer & Photographer

Ryazan has a Bachelor’s Degree in Tourism and Hotel Management. She also has more than 10 years of work experience gained from working in the hotel and travel sectors in Asia and Europe. Her work has been featured and published in BBC, Huffington Post, Reader’s Digest, Discovery Channel, World Travel Guide, MSN, CNBC, GMA, Daily Mail UK, Lonely Planet, and many more. She is currently living in the UK as a dual citizen (British-Filipina). Join her in travelling around the UK, Europe, and beyond with a mission to promote sustainable tourism and share travel guides, travel tips, foodies, history, and culture.

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