Less than an hour and a half away from Oxford, Richmond’s Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are great place to spend a day relaxing and enjoying what Mother Nature has on offer.
The area where Kew Gardens are located has been the location of privately-owned gardens from as early as the 16th century. The site was sold in 1731 to Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales and Augusta, dowager Princess of Wales who established a garden for exotic plants. Over the years, the Gardens were managed by various landed gentry and Kew became a centre for scientific research and international exchange of plant specimens. In 1840 the Gardens were conveyed to the nation and over the decades have been expanded to its present size of 300 acres. In 2003, Kew Gardens was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Kew Seed Bank, established in 1974 and later renamed the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, is the largest wild plant seed bank in the world.
Overall, the Gardens house the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world. However, even if you are not a gardener, Kew provides many places to unwind as you meander through peaceful woodlands to dazzling rose gardens. Go with a picnic or plan a stop at one of the Garden’s cafes and prepare to while away hours enjoying what this unique botanical garden has to offer.
Highlights of your visit to Kew Gardens must surely include a visit to the iconic Palm House. Constructed in 1844 by Richard Turner, according to the designs of Decimus Burton, the Palm House was the first glasshouse to be built on this scale. With a steamy atmosphere and dense with lush vegetation, the Palm House is a living laboratory dedicated to the Earth’s tropical gardens and many plants contained within its glass walls are endangered, some are even extinct. The building is magnificently framed by the Palm House pond where you can sit by the water watching the fountain display and relax in the sunshine. You will also find a strikingly beautiful memorial bench marking the end of the First World War. Named the Remembrance and Hope, it is constructed from a fallen sessile oak tree torn from the ground in October 2013. The oak had been grown from an acorn collected from the war-torn land at Verdun, planted in Kew in 1919.
With a collection of 14,000 trees, the Arboretum which stretches across two-thirds of the Gardens, is the perfect spot to picnic beneath the branches. Kew has over 2,000 species living including rare and ancient varieties, some of which date back to the 18thcentury. Wander around this unique collection and you will be able to experience the beauty and diversity of forests around the world. The Arboretum ‘a place with trees’ in Latin, is also a scientific treasure trove.
The Cedar Vista is the place to head for to stretch out on the grass and admire the Great Pagoda, constructed in 1762 as a gift for the founder of the Gardens, Princess Augusta. If you have the energy, you can climb to the heights of the Pagoda and admire sensational views across London (booking required).
You cannot visit without seeing vast displays of beautiful flowers and the Rose Garden in mid-summer is the perfect place to savour the sight and fragrance of hundreds of roses. Planted with 170 different species and cultivars of rose and originally created by the English landscape architect William Nesfield in 1848, this part of the Gardens looks their best in the morning or towards late afternoon as the scent lingers along the mowed walkways, between the beds. Providing a floral feast for the senses, the colours of the roses to the west of the garden are paler, with stronger colours used near the Palm House, creating a magnificent contrast with the iconic glasshouse in the background.
If you want to feel you are basking in the sun-kissed landscape of southern Europe, head towards the Mediterranean Garden. Planted in 2007 it depicts the typical natural habit, and you can spread out amongst towering stone pines and Tuscan olive trees with fragrant rosemary and lavender filling the air in the warmth of the day. The King William’s Temple, an iconic memorial to William IV, built in 1837 for Queen Victoria, stands in this Garden’s centre.
There is much to see and do in at Kew, so be sure to leave yourself time to sit and relax as you explore.