Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: Visiting Kew Gardens

Roughly a year ago, I visited Kew Gardens for the first time since I was a child. It had been that long since I had actually been there, that it wasn’t at all like I remembered. I can only assume that this was in part due to it being one of the hottest days on record at the time, so I may have been suffering from heatstroke. For those of you that don’t know about Kew Gardens, it is essentially the botanical version of the Zoological Society of London. Kew is involved with a number of conservation projects globally, as well as research into the propagation and cultivation of plants, should there ever be the need to undertake a captive breeding program. We often think of rhinos and elephants as the poster species for conservation, but in reality, lots of plants are exploited for all sorts of reasons, which leads them edging closer to extinction. Where do your clothes, food, and furniture all come from? Exactly. Climate change and habitat loss of course don’t help things either. Since being founded in 1759, Kew has had a roster of impressive directors including Joseph Hooker (one of Darwin’s most trusted friends), and Joseph Banks.

Inside the Temperate House, the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse. Just look at that Victorian architecture!

Spanning over 300 acres, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a haven of biodiversity, offering a mesmerising blend of landscapes, plant collections, and architectural wonders (see above). Visiting Kew Gardens is an immersive experience that transports visitors into a world of natural beauty and scientific fascination. As a nature enthusiast, I had the time of my life, celebrating those species that we often overlook. Kew Gardens’ design is nothing short of masterful, and you can see the effort that the previous directors put into it to make is as much a temple to botany as they could. The landscapes are thoughtfully curated to take visitors on a journey through various ecosystems from around the world. The Great Broad Walk borders a long promenade lined with vibrant flowerbeds and leads to the iconic Palm House. Walking through this avenue felt like strolling through a living painting. The sheer number of different shades of green blew my mind, I’ve been to other botanical collections but Kew is the pinnacle.

Wouldn’t be the Palm House without some palms now, would it?

The Palm House is a breathtaking feat of Victorian engineering. Its towering glass structure houses an impressive collection of tropical plants from all corners of the globe. As I entered, the moist, warm air embraced me, and I found myself surrounded by lush, exotic greenery. The vast variety of palms, ferns, and orchids was truly awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, the spiral staircase that offers stunning views from above, was closed. But I’ll be back in the future to experience the Palm House properly in all of its grandeur. Another highlight was the Princess of Wales Conservatory. A modern glasshouse divided into ten climatic zones, each representing different ecosystems. From arid deserts to tropical rainforests, the conservatory showcased an incredible array of cacti, carnivorous plants, and beautiful water lilies. The controlled environments allowed me (and the other visitors)to appreciate the diversity of plants from diverse habitats.

This photo doesn’t show the scale of these lilies – they were huge!

A tranquil oasis awaited me at the Waterlily House, although it was quite busy following the news of a recently discovered species among Kew’s collection there. This glasshouse hosts a collection of water lilies and other aquatic plants. It is the sort of place you’d expect to find Kermit, but alas no frogs were to be seen. The serene pond showcased the delicate beauty of the lilies, and I imagine that the hushed atmosphere made it an ideal spot for reflection and appreciation of nature’s wonders, when not as busy as it was when I visited. Also, if you’re tall like I am – look out for low hanging pitcher plants that creep up on you! I was unable to climb the Kew Pagoda (which some of you may recognise from the commemorative 50p), but I shall conquer this striking ten-story tower next time! I can’t wait to see what the view is like from the top, I imagine it is quite something.

I’ll climb you next time Pagoda!

That pretty much wraps up my visit to Kew Gardens, there is still much more that I need to see. Overall though, it was a magical and enlightening experience. The botanical diversity, architectural wonders, and educational initiatives make it an unparalleled destination for nature lovers, and those seeking to know more about the natural world. Kew Gardens has managed to strike a perfect balance between entertainment and education, leaving visitors like me with an increased appreciation for the beauty and importance of plants, and their place in our natural world. Whether you are a passionate botanist, a casual visitor, or a family looking for an unforgettable outing, Kew Gardens is an absolute must-visit destination. Their gift shop sells a number of wonderful merch, including beer and books, which may or may not have come home with me…Hopefully, I’ll catch some of you there when I visit next!

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