diamond geezer

 Monday, December 31, 2012

The first time I went to Kew Gardens it cost a penny to get in. Yesterday it cost less. Entrance to the gardens is free for twelve days over Christmas, but only if you booked in advance, and if you didn't you're too late. A fine day out at any time, but finer still for nothing.

The trick to visiting Kew Gardens is to come early. I arrived shortly after half past nine, and the parkland was almost entirely empty. Even better the sky was almost completely cloudless, which wasn't going to last, so I had a short time to enjoy the gardens at their best. I headed for somewhere that hadn't been built the last time I was here, the Treetop Walkway - an elevated circuit eighteen metres above the ground. It's not for those without a head for heights, as a few of the day's first visitors discovered. As they slunk down in the lift, nerves aquiver, I strode off round the upper level unhindered. Being winter the view stretched to the horizon, beyond the tower blocks of Brentford to the distant Wembley arch, but in spring the surrounding branches will burst into obstructive leaf... which is entirely the point.

Close by is the Lake, recently crossed by an S-shaped span called the Sackler Crossing. This low granite walkway hugs close to the water, and is edged by a series of vertical bronze posts forming a semi-transparent barrier. It's also very pretty, especially when nobody's standing on it (which is another good reason to arrive at Kew early). Various waterfowl waddle along the banks, and glide like limbo dancers beneath the bridge, so best mind where you stand. Indeed boots are recommended over trainers at this time of year, especially if you want to explore the muddier, squishier paths towards the riverside.

The predominant colours at Kew, at present, are green and brown. That's grass and branches, mostly, which is great if you like trees and shrubs but not much cop if you prefer flowers. Blooms are in short supply, obviously, apart from a few formal transplanted beds of winter pansies and some resilient blue irises in the Japanese garden. Various magnolia trees appear to be budding, which is impressive given it's not even next year yet, but apart from that the glories of spring remain some distance off.



Even indoors, inside the famous glasshouses, proper flowers are in short supply. The leaves may be grand, and the tallest fronds reach to the roof, but not many of the plants can be tricked into thinking it's summer. The Temperate House is full to bursting, as you can see if you step up the spiral staircase to walk around the inside of the glass roof. The Palm House is warmer, which is ideal if your visit comes on a cold or rainswept day, and don't forget to shut the door on your way in. So many plants from around the tropics are here, scientifically labelled for the experts and educationally described for the rest of us. Expect mostly algae in the marine gallery underneath, but I'm sure most visitors are looking only at the fish.

Pride of Kew is the Princess of Wales Conservatory, home to ten different climatic zones optimised for various exotic species. It's a masterpiece of botanic display, with paths and staircases weaving all over, and the opportunity to get up close to orchids, cacti and the ever-popular carnivorous plants. In the wet tropics zone a Titan Arum waits to burst into stinky life, maybe some time in the next decade, but for now it's just an underwhelming leaf.

For Christmas the team at Kew have got a carousel in, a proper one, except the pipe organ plays Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder and a selection of other semi-modern tunes. There's also a 12 Days of Christmas scratchcard quiz for younger members of the family, with clues hidden around the gardens, for a 20% discount at the shop on your way out. There were plenty of children in attendance on Sunday, some being led around the gardens by enthusiastic parents, others dropped off at the adventure playground after staring at plants got all too much.



One of the treats at Kew at the moment is a series of artworks by David Nash. He specialises in wooden sculpture, naturalistic rather than figurative, and has carved a number of pieces in situ over the summer. Pillars and globes of charred black timber, towers of bark, all scattered around the gardens for you to enjoy. There's also a Nash exhibition in Kew's new art gallery, where I was absorbed by the 25-year downstream tale of 'Wooden Boulder'. Nextdoor is the amazing Marianne North gallery, its walls hung deep with 800 oil paintings bequeathed by a Victorian world traveller, recently restored to awesome effect.

To be frank, this isn't the best time of year to enjoy Kew Gardens. Nature's in hibernation, there's minimal colour and it gets dark by far too early in the afternoon. But I still managed to spend six hours wandering and exploring, and even then I got home and looked at the map properly and realised I'd missed things. The normal entrance price is steep (£16, sheesh), but you almost certainly know a member of the family who'd adore a trip here, to one of the jewels of London.

14 photos: Treetop Walkway, Sackler Crossing, Syon Vista, Temperate House, Palm House (& lake), Princess of Wales Conservatory, Kew Palace


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream