Monday 7 July 2014

A visit to Kew Gardens

It was a beautiful day in London
It was meant to be Chelsea! Julie Williams advance-purchased train tickets for the five of us before finding Chelsea was fully booked! So we went to Kew. 

To assuage Julie's embarrassment when Brenda subsequently tried to arrange a different jaunt to London Open Squares Gardens, she purchased the tickets for the gardens, booked Waterloo Travelodge on a none-refundable deal before finding the gardens were open the following week. We did the Jubilee Walk instead! You just can't get the staff!

We arrived At Kew Tube Station and ate a hearty breakfast outside in the morning sunshine before confidently wandering down to the gardens secure that each one of us knew the way. We walked about half a mile 180 degrees in the wrong direction. A perfect start to a wonderful day! As we entered the garden Peter and I reminisced how fifty years ago we went in for a penny. Not anymore!

Before I embark on describing some scenes in this fantastic and wonderful garden I ought to explain why some of my comments are rather ungracious and carping. It's more that I want discuss a few interesting technical considerations rather than complain. To manage such a huge and sophisticated garden as well as they do is no inconsiderable achievement.
Take labelling. Another (unnamed) botanic garden I visited recently had a number of misplaced labels. Spring bulbs had died down to be replaced by the new growth of Summer plants. It was very confusing. One could also see a bulb labelled miscanthus when this tall grass was actually emerging two metres away. It's very difficult when untrained staff and worse Joe Public rearrange labels. An absolute nightmare. 
For Kew it was a minor sin, when in a display bed I found a corydalis wrongly labelled as the related adlumia. Shades of schadenfruede, I am ashamed to say. I felt a frisson of satisfaction.

My camera work is worse than their naming
This is a real Adlumia fungusa
Pictures of Kew

The ducks think the flower urns are nests.

Is tattooing trees a new trend?

Cathi, Julie and Brenda all cook with pine nuts and were fascinated by the bark of this historic tree

Fascinating story how neglect in a Victorian nursery determined the tree’s shape. It gives me hope for my own misdemeanours!
A wonderful place to bring children for stimulating  projects. Hard work for the teachers.

These diligent students are being very good not to walk on the soil. Last time I went to Oxford Botanic Garden, Marilyn, Dave and Brenda shouted at me and gasped in astonishment when I walked on the fluffed up soil to examine a plant.

They don't give my own sophora the same degree of attention.

When you build a new rock garden use generous sized stone
Two of of the things wrong with traditional herbaceous borders. Over-staking and weeds. I find it difficult to believe in a hundred years they have not eliminated common bindweed. On reflexion perhaps I malign them, maybe it’s the more innocuous annual black bindweed?

Dicentra formosa oregona 'Silver Beads is a perfectly nice dicentra but if there is any difference to Dicentra 'Pearl Drops' and 'Langtrees' it is beyond me. Perhaps it is a dwarf form or just growing poorly? I wonder if it is characteristic of 'Silver Beads' to have those pink flowers or is it reverting? Better try it again in my National Collection.

They sometimes say garden maintenance in public places is boring. How could it be so in such a beautiful place?

Did the automatic humidifiers or overhead watering system break down on a very hot day? I sometimes think that plants should be displayed, worts and all, as they really are in the jungle!

What wonderful markings on this aquatic plant. It was fascinating to learn from a display that some of the floating tropical aquatics have on their underside the equivalent of thorns - to deter predators

The water lily house was our favourite place

There are many fine historic buildings in the grounds.
The old orangery now serves as a tea room. I love the shape of that border

They want to make sure that the 'fossil tree', the Wollemi Pine  does not escape. Does it walk like a triffid? There are many fine specimens of those other two fossil trees in the grounds, metasequoia and ginkgo. They are a bit big to get through the gate.
Taking a walk in the daisies

See that plant with the orange tint on the leaves. Is it the biggest weed, an epilobium, that we will see today?  Mea culpa too, you should have seen the disdainful look when Brenda recently pulled out a sow thistle taller than herself in our garden at home

By the time we got here we were a little tired and failed to investigate. Wonder what we missed? 

This tree would be a very good visual aid for a lecture on tree compartmentalisation. You can see how the branch is a very distinct structure from a trunk and where on the shoulder a pruning cut should be made.

Tribute to Kew

What a wonderful garden! What beautiful spacious parkland and grounds. The further you walk away from the gate and explore into the hinterland the more natural it seems to become, albeit, or should I say because of, the plants of the world  are growing together. As a result of the artifices of skilled management and careful planting the plants seem to belong there.
Tens of thousands of different plants are preserved in the grounds. This is just the tip of the iceberg with regard to the conservation work done by Kew.  Worldwide their staff seek out endangered plants and habitats and by advice, education and persuasion help to preserve them. Sometimes natural habitats no longer exist and plants can only be preserved by moving them around the world and growing them in gardens and new ecologies.
Moving plants around the world is what Kew has been good at for the past 250 years. Think of all the plants, food crops and commodities that have passed through their hands and literally have changed the world.
You do not have to be a gardener to appreciate Kew. The garden contains historic buildings, monuments and greenhouses. The buildings provide for administration, research laboratories, preserved plant collections, gene banks of seeds and educational facilities. Kew educates and trains gardeners from all over the world. 
The plants in both the historic and new state of-the-art greenhouses are just amazing.
It is tragic that Kew’s grant from the state has been reduced yet again. The value of trade in plants that Kew have given the world would pay for the annual maintenance of the garden hundreds of times over.
I wish the British public appreciated Kew more. It should be top of any list as a garden to visit in London. ‘Other places’ might display huge skill in short term display, publicity, hype and television coverage. British horticulture is magnificently represented at Kew!

My previous two London garden visits London Squares Gardens 


  1. I HATE bindweed? I also find it annoying when public gardens either wrongly have something I am interested in or don't label it at all. If it is labelled and I head to the plant shop to search for it they rarely have one available and just sell the common stuff that I can buy in any local garden centre - so frustrating.

    I do hope tree tattooing doesn't catch on - nature is best left to its own design. It is sad that funding for such places is cut when money can be found for other spurious things. Maybe we should have some sat as to where our taxes go!

    1. I find it very annoying too Sue when I go to the sales centre and it is the usual common garden centre stuff only relevant to the beginner. I seem to remember Oxford Botanic Garden and Chelsea Physic garden (highly recommended) having some plants they have propagated from the garden.
      On the other hand on Open Days, when the boot is on the other foot, I despair of the special plants I have for sale and because they are not in flower nobody buys them.
      This will be put to the test on my coming Open Day on Sunday September 7th when my friend Peter Williams will be selling some very special plants from his nursery, albeit largely of Spring and Early Summer interest.

  2. Thank you Roger for the interesting pictures and the witty comments. I always enjoy seeing and reading them!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Alain. Trouble is that when I look back on some of my comments they don't seem witty at all and I think "did I really write that?"

    2. So frustrating selling plants on open days - anything sells if in flower. It seems if you charge more for a plant it will sell better. Let's face it most "common" plants are popular because they are good and some "rare and unusual" are well ......

    3. sorry not to reply sooner Pauline I have been on holiday in Tignes and the i pad is wretched for doing responses!. You would love the wild flowers there and I will be posting about them soon!
      Yes it is frustrating selling plants on open days, but many people come to buy plants.
      So many fine plants are so easy to grow.. but selling - that's the hard bit

  3. One of the best ways to spend an afternoon on school trips to London is to visit the green spaces. Hyde Park and Kew Gardens are two of the best.

  4. I live near Kew Gardens and it is worth a second visit, it is far too much to do in a day as I have often found! The rock garden is wonderful and the "new" alpine house always has something beautiful and interesting. Love your blog. Very useful to me as I have a new raised bed with cacti and other plants about to hit their first winter outside. I am hoping bell cloches will help.

    1. Bell cloches will help a lot and keep the cacti tops dry - but not the roots. I expect you have read my posts about outdoor cacti (use the search box or the theme column links)
      I remember when it cost one penny to go into Kew!


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