Tuesday, 25 September 2012



The last time I visited Kew I was studying horticulture for my National Diploma way back in the sixties. I was very impressed and knew that I would go back again another time, but to enjoy the gardens rather than study plants. Anna had never been there before and as she loves gardening as much as me it was a memorable visit. I think we got the last of the summer weather as we enjoyed three glorious days with cloudless skies and temperatures of 27 degrees C. Kew was at its best.

The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew started over 250 years ago as wealthy people liked to show their status with large gardens furnished with the latest exotic plant discoveries from around the world. Plant collections grew in time and buildings and garden structures were created. The tall Chinese pagoda was built in 1761, then a palm house, temperate house, an arboretum and as the gardens expanded they were adopted as a National Botanical Garden in 1840.
It now has a massive plant collection for botanical interest and research, a massive library and a herbarium with 7 million specimens. It participates in the Millennium Seed bank project. Billions of seed from plants all over the world are preserved in nuclear bomb proof underground vaults in case of natural disasters.
Back at ground level it is reputed to have Europe’s largest compost heap created from plant material from its garden maintenance. And I thought I had a big compost heap on my allotment!!!

A museum shows how humans depend on plants for food, tools, clothes, medicines and ornaments.
Two galleries are dedicated to botanical paintings.

The gardens receive about 2 million visitors annually, maintained by about 700 staff. Botanical research is carried out by 650 scientists on projects of a world wide scale, as well as maintaining accuracy on the botanical naming of plants from DNA sampling.

Kew lost hundreds of trees in the Great Storm of 1987, though there is now little evidence of the devastation.


The huge palm house was completed in 1848 but more recently the Princess of Wales Conservatory was opened by Princess Diana in 1987. It has ten computer controlled micro climates for wet tropical plants to dry tropical plants. Excellent displays of tropical water lilies, orchids and carnivorous plants in the middle sections with cactus on the outer areas needing hot dry conditions.
The water lily house is very hot and humid to accommodate tropical water lilies including the large leaved Victoria Amazonica.
The Davies Alpine House was opened in 2006 to house a collection of alpine plants. The construction has an arched roof to allow maximum light penetration, and cool air is circulated for ventilation with automatic blinds to prevent overheating in mid summer. It is glazed with special glass which allows 90% of the ultraviolet light to pass through. All the plants looked very happy.
The Orangery constructed in 1761 never really worked, so it has been converted into a restaurant.

There is so much to see you can wander around for days and always find something new. I was very impressed with some excellent mature sweet chestnuts with huge crops of nuts, but not yet ripe. However we did find a large fruiting Mulberry tree full of red berries. They were delicious and a new experience for both of us.
We found an Italian grotto surrounded with olive trees and white fruiting grape vines. However there was not an olive in sight, and surprisingly the grapes were far from ripe, I was told.
A perfect hot day was finished off with a round of very tasty ice cream.

Plant of the week

Cyclamen hederifolium is perfect for giving a bright splash of colour (pink, mauve and white) at the end of summer in rock gardens and woodland fringe with dappled sunlight. This perennial grows about six inches high and the leaves emerge in autumn after flowering remaining green till spring. They go dormant all summer. Seed is produced in autumn protected as the old flower stem coils around the maturing seed pod. Allow the seed to fall, or scatter it to form a natural drift.
Painting for September

Happy Thoughts
is an acrylic painting on canvas. This study is one of many figurative images being prepared for my exhibition at the Dundee Botanical Gardens in October where I will show studies of my “Artist’s Models” Figure painting presents the artist with a huge challenge combining an attractive model in a modern setting but retaining artistic values of good composition, variety of tones and good use of colour and texture.


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