A memorable visit to London’s Kew Gardens
by PU Chien, email@example.com. Posted on July 29, 2012, Sunday
MY family and I recently had the opportunity to visit the world-renowned Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London, England. The 121ha site is an important botanical research and educational institution with 700 staff. It attracts two million visitors a year.
It was created in 1759 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. The gardens were declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 2003.
The centre is responsible for the world’s largest collection of living plants, with a total of 30,000 different kinds of plants, while the herbium houses seven million preserved plant specimens.
Sadly hundreds of trees were lost during Britain’s Great Storm in 1987. Thankfully the Chinese pagoda built in 1761 still stands. The Dutch house purchased by King George III in 1781 as a nursery is now known as Kew Palace – the smallest of royal palaces. The landscaping of the lawn is incredible.
A major historical link of the Kew Gardens to Malaysia is of course being where the rubber seeds first planted in Peninsular Malaysia came from. In fact, oil palm, cocoa and most of our other major crops first came to our shores through the Kew Gardens. This week I will highlight some of the key areas that I enjoyed.
Davies Alpine House – has automatic blinds, cold air streams from underground pipes and walls of special low iron glass to allow UV light to get through. The aim is to conserve and save energy. Alpine plants grown here are found from 2,000 to 7,000 metres above ground. There are over 200 species of desert cacti and agaves. Most of the areas are rock garden features within a glass semicircle wheel-like structure.
Chokushi-Mon (Imperial Envoy Gateway) – Originally built for the Japan-British Exhibition in 1911 and then moved to Kew Gardens, this is a four-fifth scale replica of the Nish Temple in Kyoto. The essence of the Japanese landscape is best seen in the steps, seas of sand and conifer plants as well as bonsai.
Kew Palace – Built in 1631 by Dutch merchant Samuel Fortry and purchased by King George III for the Kew Gardens. At the back of the small palace is the Queen’s Garden, which is planted with a collection of 17th century medicinal plants.
Nash Conservatory – Originally designed for Buckingham Palace, there is an abundance of plants and photos for educational purposes. One very unique sight
was the giant stink fungus called Titan arum from Indonesia. The fungus is seen as a huge flower shoot slowly ascending from the base that is about 20 inches in diameter. When we visited it was two feet tall.
Palm House – specially designed for tropical palms, there are coconut and oil palms growing happily in the hot house even in the cold of winter. Visitors can use a nine metre high walkway to see the tops of the plants below. One really old windy long stemmed potted palm has been here since the 18th century!
Temperate House – This green house is the world’s largest surviving Victorian glass structure. It houses plants and trees from all the temperate regions of the world. Covering an area of 4,880 square metres, there is a 19-metre high treetop walkway and viewing gallery in the central section. Here we saw plants common to Europe and North America.
Water Lily House – This house is well-designed to grow many species of water lily. There is also a clear explanation that lotus and water lilies are not the same. The easy method to distinguish them is the lotus will have leaves above water, while water lily leaves float on the water’s surface. We really appreciated the one metre in diameter table-like leaf of the Amazon water lily from the Nymphaeaceae family. It arrived from South America in 1849.
A one-day tour was hardly enough to see the many plant specimens from all over the world.
Another vital area we visited was the largest single compost heap in Europe – made from the garden’s green waste and waste from stables. The compost is used in the gardens as natural feed.
I would definitely recommend you spend at least a day visiting the Kew Gardens if you are ever in London. Happy gardening.