Arboretum - Most of Kew Gardens is about trees. There are 14000 in total, spread across the majority of the site, and grouped by family. The redwoods are lofty. The oaks are enormous. Stepping beneath the Pinaceae, tread carefully in case what you're stepping on isn't a cone but came out of the back of a goose. Botanical art - The Shirley Sherwood Gallery is the world's first public gallery dedicated to botanical art, and its contemporary stylings would be well at home mid-Mayfair. Conservatory - Officially the Princess of Wales Conservatory, and opened by Diana in 1987, this twelve-zone multi-level labyrinth is a fabulous building to explore. It has giant cacti that put yours to shame, plate-like Amazonian water lilies and tropical ferns to brush through, not to mention a roomful of slippery orchids. School parties naturally gravitate to the carnivorous plants, some of which look like killer rhubarb.
Davies Alpine Garden - The glass building nextdoor, much thinner and smaller, essentially a rockery walkthrough. Evolution Garden - This one's newly branded for 2019, an extensive grid of flowerbeds grouped into 'plant rooms' to demonstrate evolutionary connectivity. It's quite science-based with a lot of information boards about DNA sequencing. It's also conveniently located beside the School of Horticulture, so you might spot several apprentices on their knees keeping the place under control. Food and drink - If you must, there are several locations around the gardens which'll serve you a tea, some sponge, a hot meal or a glass of botanical infused gin. Their serving staff look a trifle bored on drizzly November days, especially those furthest from the main entrance. Great Pagoda - Kew's most famous landmark dates back to 1762 and was erected as a birthday gift for Princess Augusta. Last year the pagoda's dragons were replaced and they look dazzling. If you want to climb to the top you can, but not until next spring, for an additional fee.
Hive - This metallic honeycomb lattice is one of the newest additions to the gardens. Underneath you're invited to hold a stick in your teeth to hear the sound of bees, honest, while up top you can walk inside to take the obligatory upward swirling photograph. Illuminations - Every Christmas Kew puts on a special after-dark lightfest trail, and every year it sells out. That's not bad going for a seven week season at £18 a head. It looks a lot less dazzling in daylight, but you can walk the entire route passing gold baubles, dangling silver foil and empty light tunnels along the way. The circuit also includes seven opportunities to pause for food and drink, plus one mini-fairground, so if you succumb to mulled wine, toasted marshmallows, spiced cider, 'seasonal sourdough wood-fired pizza', the helter skelter and a 'festive fizz selfie' it could get well expensive. Japanese Garden - This garden's centrepiece is a four-fifths replica of a temple gate left over from the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition. Signs urge visitors not to walk on top of 17 tonnes of raked gravel, so it retains its ridges, but nobody's told the peacocks.
Kew Palace - Not much is left of the original Stuart palace by the river, just the Dutch House and some kitchens, and these too close for the winter. One day I'll get inside. Instead I walked the knot garden and the kitchen garden, avoiding the member of staff with the giant leafblower. Light vehicles - Watch out for tractors and tiny vans making their way round the paths, carrying supplies to a restaurant or carting off cuttings. It's just over a mile from one end of the Gardens to the other, so staff rely on their miniature transport to keep the place ticking over efficiently. Marianne North - Long before colour photography, circa 1871, Marianne eschewed marriage in favour of a worldwide journey painting exotic botany. Then she paid for a gallery at Kew to host it, and covered every space on the walls, and it looks amazing. It also recently had a National Lottery funded upgrade, and this may explain why I got into Kew for free yesterday.
Nash Conservatory - They moved this capacious glasshouse from the grounds of Buckingham Palace in 1836, and now it's used to host weddings, conferences and product launches. You won't get inside otherwise. A lot of the newer buildings at Kew also double up as event spaces, indeed you can often see where the architects prioritised standing room over flowerbeds. One Penny - The first time I went to Kew Gardens, in the 1970s, admission cost a penny. Yesterday, thanks to a National Lottery special offer, it cost less than that. Normally it's more like £18 (but reduced in the winter).
Palm House - This is Kew's crowdpleaser, a long glass hothouse packed with tropical plants, please close the door behind you. Water occasionally drops from the ceiling. Occasional splashes of red are provided by flowers from distant shores. The most fun thing to do is of course to climb the spiral staircase and walk round the narrow gallery admiring the jungle canopy. Also, look out for the robins. Queen Charlotte's Cottage - If you find this rustic royal bolthole in the woods, well done, you've ventured further off the beaten track than most visitors manage. Rose Garden - Another late autumn non-event. See also 'Rhododendron Walk'.
Sackler Crossing - Opioids helped pay for this low sinuous bridge across The Lake (which is not to be mistaken for The Pond). It's where all the photographers assemble, casual and serious, each hoping that everyone else will go away and allow them to capture the optimum snap. I got an intrusive swan in one of mine, which may have helped.
Temperate House - This is the world's largest surviving Victorian glasshouse, designed by Decimus Burton, with specimens grouped by continent and less strict rules on closing doors. Again there's a spiral staircase up to the balcony, but this time it's only 45 steps rather than 52, plus there's a better view because a forest of leaves doesn't get in the way. In the octagons either side of the main hall the gardeners are growing narcissi, fuchsias and pelargoniums, and it was a real tonic for the soul to see flowers in November. Underground - A whole passagewayful of classic 'Kew Gardens' tube posters can be found in the Kew Gardens Gallery, a building I've never seen anybody else in, at the northern tip of the site. Victoria Gate - If you arrive from the tube station this is where you pay up and enter. There are no queues on wet Mondays. Kew Gardens' largest gift shop is alongside, and I'm pleased to say I've now finished my Christmas shopping. Woodland Walk - Another recent addition, though nothing wow, just a 300m boardwalk that wends through some previously inaccessible woodland. Simple, but effective, are the panels which show the difference between oak, lime, hazel, rowan, elm, sweet chestnut and beech leaves, in front of a genuine example of each, and I think I may actually have learned something useful. (n.b. this probably won't work so well in January) Xstrata Treetop Walkway - If your head for heights can take it, and mine could, hike up over 100 steps to this elevated walkway amid the treetops. Normally you can do a complete circuit, but the majority is sealed off at the moment to cater for nocturnal festive artworks, viewed only from below.
Yellow - Nothing says autumn like a sharp-edged carpet of yellow leaves immediately surrounding a tree. Kew has several of these at the moment, because staff leave them undisturbed and most visitors don't go kicking through. Zero waste - Kew are proud of their compostable cups and recyclable cans of drinking water, and how nothing in their litter bins ends up in landfill. Sorry, I'd like to have ended with something more interesting than banning single-use plastic, but Sir David Attenborough would be proud. [15 photos]