Kew Gardens offers 300 acres of natural beauty that will delight even the least likely garden enthusiast. In 2004 the gardens were named a World Heritage Site and in 2009 major revitalization marked the 250th anniversary.
You will be covering quite a distance with this walk, make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. A map of Kew Gardens is available to download and print.
Begin your walk at Kew Gardens tube station. Walk down Lichfield Road where you can enter the gardens through the Victoria Gate. There is an admission charge and tickets are available at the gate or may be purchased online. The gardens open daily at 9:30 am and close at different times, depending on the time of year: at 4:30 November to January; at 5pm during February; at 6pm March; Monday to Saturday at 6:30pm and on Sunday 8pm, April to August; at 6pm September to October. Most of the hothouses close at 5:30 in the summer and earlier in the winter.
Walk towards the pond for about 100 meters until you arrive at the Palm House. This humid enclosure was first built in 1848 and features a collection of palms from across the globe. When construction was finished, landscape architect William Nesfield had shaped and produced an intricate geometric pattern of beds, or parterre to surround it.
The Palm House
The variety of plants that have been featured in the Palm House Parterre has historically followed what was in fashion at the time. The spring of 2009, for example, influenced the planting to celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of his book Origin of Species, with plants discovered by Darwin and linked to Kew Botanical Gardens.
2010 brought the International Year of Biodiversity and the plantings were those from the biodiversity center of Namaqualand and meant to demonstrate how many species can easily become endangered.
Continue for another 100 meters, walking straight and then turning right, then left as you follow signs directing you to the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Ten climatic and computer-controlled zones occupy the conservatory where you can admire Madagascan baobab trees, exotic Central American orchids, and carnivorous plant of Asia. The larger part of the conservatory is devoted to dry tropic and wet tropic plants.
A Stroll Around Princess of Wales Conservatory
Back in the 1980s, this conservatory was built to replace a selection of smaller buildings that had outgrown their purpose. While it was named for Princess Augusta, it was opened in 1987 by Diana, Princess of Wales. There was a time capsule buried at the south end of the conservatory. Placed by Sir David Attenborough, the capsule contains seeds for food crops and endangered species to be opened in 2085 when it is thought that many of the species may be endangered or extinct by that time.
Hard at work in Zone One and likely out of view, are water dragons that live and breed in the conservatory. It is their job to control any insects that might find their way into the building.
Turning right will bring you to the Davies Alpine House and the gardens that surround it. Opened in 2006, the alpine house is one of the garden’s newer attractions.
The Alpine House was developed for plants that grow within cool, dry, and windy locations. To create the ecosystem the design was 50 feet long by 33 feet high. Built to create a stack effect by drawing in the cool air through the lower openings on both sides and releasing warmer air at the top of the building through vents. Simultaneously, air blows through a concrete web below ground level. The air cools as it moves into the glasshouse through steel pipes.
The glass is designed so that 90% of the ultraviolet rays will pass through, while fan-shaped shades open and close on the east and west sides to protect plants from the heat of a summer day. The glasshouse is designed so that temperatures will not arrive above 68F. As space is limited in the building only about 200 plants can be displayed at any one time. So plants are housed on a rotating schedule.
Continue up to the Duke’s Garden. This walled garden used to be a private garden for Cambridge Cottage. It was named for the 1st Duke of Cambridge, Adolphus Frederick who lived here for a time. Before the Duke, the cottage was home to Lord Bute, Princess Augusta’s personal expert on all things botanical. King George III gained the cottage in 1772 and his two sons, the Prince’s Edward and William took up residence here.
Walk around the walled garden enjoying the plantings and exit at the same spot you entered.
Continue up to the Orangery.
This building is the only surviving plant house designed by Sir William Chambers. The Orangery was originally constructed to cultivate orange and other citrus trees. Plans didn’t work out due to improper light which would not allow the trees to flourish. The trees were removed to Kensington Palace and the Orangery was used to house plants too large for the other buildings at the botanical gardens. In 1868, after renovations, the building became a timber museum. Currently, it sits as a restaurant, and an elegant spot to stop for a refreshment and a bite to eat.
Open seasonally, Kew Palace can be seen to the right.
Kew Palace is open during the summer months. If your visit is while the palace is open you may want to take a short detour to visit. Kew Palace offers an authentic look at what life at a royal retreat was like when King George III reigned. Legend has it that the monarch would retreat to Kew Palace during episodes of madness. Behind the palace is the Queen’s Garden that features some plants believed to have medicinal qualities.
Beyond the Orangery turn left onto Princess Walk, turn right on Syon Vista and walk along the lakeside path to the river for a lovely view of Syon House beyond.
Walk back along the other side of the lake, turning right at the sign to tour the treetops on the Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway
Treetop Walkway – A Bird’s Eye View
The walkway treats you to a view not usually seen. Beginning with a look beneath the soil, visitors will climb some 18 meters or 59 feet above the garden. You will have the option of using the stairs or a lift. Hang on because the walkway naturally sways with the wind.
Walk over towards the Temperate House. This is the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse. It is home to more than 1,500 species of plants from Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. The building reopened in 2018 following a five-year renovation.
Temperate House Tour
Exit down Cherry Walk, turn right to bring you back to the main entrance to the gardens and to the Kew Gardens tube station.
Or if you prefer you may want to visit other parts of the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens not included on this walk.
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