Early to bed then an early rise on Saturday saw us heading to London for the day. To be correct it was a suburb of London, Kew.
Only 2 hours from Bristol, Kew Gardens are set in the lovely surrounding suburb of, surprisingly, Kew!. All the benefits of going to London for a lovely day out without actually going into the city centre.
After I had recovered from the nose bleed shock that they call the entry price (13 quid each) I can happily report that a day spent here is well worth the loss of blood. Take my advice and strongly consider the yearly membership, we are getting a joint one, which provides you free entry for the year plus tickets for 6 additional friends and access to a number of other gardens. Check their website for all the options available www.kew.org
There is so much to tell but only a short amount of time that I am likely to keep your attention, so here is Kew in a whirlwind tour. Doors open at 9.30am and close at 7.30pm with the glasshouses shutting during summer at 5.30pm. We decided to keep the glass houses to the end for some reason that doesn’t seem clear right now. We also took in our own lunch, water and snacks to keep costs down. Plenty of places to picnic but as always never any BBQ facilities supplied like back home. First off we headed to Kew Palace where we looked at the beautifully manicured box hedges, gravelled paths, kitchen garden, vine covered walkways and medicinal gardens. You have to pay extra to get into the palace so we passed on this. We then made a stop at The Orangery restaurant to have a look inside. The building is lovely with spacious ceilings and top to bottom windows that provide a wonderful environment full of light. Of course we had to purchase a coffee and cake from here (breakfast!) and eat it on the lawn. Next there is a large lake which we explored, photographed all the baby ducklings, gosslings etc and generally enjoyed the cooling and peaceful water. We then moved on to the lookout over the Thames River at the end of the park. To get to here we walked through rhododendron gardens, bamboo gardens and the largest compost heap in the UK (surprisingly did NOT smell rank).
It was getting close to lunchtime by now so we headed for Queen Charlotte’s Cottage which was built as a picnic house (seemed appropriate for our own picnic location). I can tell you now they obviously didn’t picnic like we did with our burner, toast maker, meat and cheese selections. We topped this off with a cappuccino. We can be rather civilised when we have to 🙂
The Redwood Grove was quite nice mostly to see the intense red bark of these giants. They are relatively baby trees but still impressive. Then it was on to the Japanese Gateway which to me was amazingly accurate in relation to the style and feel of the gardens I have seen in Kyoto. There is a chinese pagoda next to the Japanese exhibit but we were disappointed that you couldn’t go into it.
By this time it was now about 3pm and we still hadn’t even got to the glasshouses yet. Our feet were starting to get really sore and we were slightly dehydrated as we had drunk all our water so we stopped and filled up at a water fountain. After refilling we headed to the glasshouses before we were no longer able to continue walking!
If you only had half a day and had to choose between two of the enclosed displays I would pick the Temperate House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory (with the Palm House being a very close second). The Temperate House structure is just beautiful in itself without even taking into account the displays inside. While the Princess of Wales Conservatory has a number of unique displays such as a large cactus and succulent collections and a stunning orchid collection. Each has its own unique attributes. As I was already feeling quite dehydrated I found the Palm House to be quite difficult due to the extreme humidity. It was, again, an incredible building with stunning displays of tropical plants but I think we left this too late in the day for me to truly appreciate. Hence why we have decided to get the joint membership so we can come back again and again and again.
Recently opened in the garden is the tree tops walk. Thankfully this is included in the cost of your ticket, personally if it wasn’t included I wouldn’t have paid to do it. A nice walk up to the canopy of the trees where the walkways lead you around the top of the trees so you can see what happens up there. Nice to do but not a key highlight of the day.
Finally, we did the Waterlily House. Loved it in here with the massive bright green lilly leaves. There weren’t that many lillies flowering but those that were were lovely to see.
We managed to spend 9 hours at Kew Gardens and still missed a couple of smaller areas. It is an incredible place to spend a day with the kids, family,as a couple or a day out solo just browsing, reading or generally lazing about. In bad weather you can just focus on the greenhouses or the galleries in the grounds. I would also strongly recommend the Marianne North Gallery to see all her wonderful botanical colour paintings. There is no point me trying to describe the display you just have to go in and see it to believe it. Wonderful!
If I had to pick my favourite items or particular plants from the day it would be the wonderful Atlas Cedar trees, the flowers on the Tulip Tree, listening to the sounds inside a Eculyptus tree through headphones (also inhaling the smell of the eculyptus), the intense citrusy smell of Philadelphus X Lemoinei and finally the hundreds of plants I knew and the thousands I didn’t!
Before hitting the road we found an incredible Italian restaurant called ASK Italian. This place was incredible. The food magnificent, very well priced, service was very friendly and totally focused on ensuring the customer was happy with everything (very rare in England!), there was even a visit to the table from the owner to make sure we enjoyed everything. Glasses were chilled, cutlery polished and good quality finally the desserts were dreamy! What can I say besides 9 out of 10. We will be visiting again.
It was time to hit the road as the sun dropped below the horizon bringing the end to an incredible day. Kew Gardens? Well worth every penny, and more.