The weather has been so awful this week – I think ‘April showers’ really doesn’t describe it! – that I couldn’t resist taking a chance when I woke to a sunny morning and heading off to Kew Gardens for a walk (umbrella in hand, just in case). One of the joys of living in this part of South West London is the expanse of greenery everywhere from Kew’s botanical gardens to Richmond Park, Bushy Park and Ham Common; and, of course, lovely long walks by the River Thames.
If you think I’m stretching the ‘travelling’ tag of my blog name by merely jumping on a local bus and heading a couple of miles up the road, then all I can say is, people travel from all over the world to enjoy Kew Gardens, so how lucky am I that it’s right on my doorstep! In fact, this whole area is rich in history and wonderful architecture so I decided it was time to introduce a whole new category to the blog and from time to time write about my local area. I was talking to my lovely hairdresser Yolanda last Wednesday about where she might take her parents when they visit soon from South Africa for a month. And that conversation has inspired me (once I’m back from my Venice trip this week) to take one of my frequent walks along the river from Twickenham to Richmond and write about it.
The London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames boasts a wonderful collection of attractions apart from Kew’s gardens: Hampton Court, Ham House, Eel Pie Island (with its wonderful rock music history), The Wetlands Centre in Barnes, not to mention that famous sports venue – Twickenham Rugby Stadium (though please don’t count on me writing too much about that one!).
Being a local it’s definitely worth having a Friends’ season ticket for Kew. It’s quite expensive to get in for a single visit, but my frequent visits over the year justify the annual fee to be a Friend and it means I can pop in for just an hour or two without worrying about cost. I like to be able to go at different times of the year and enjoy the different seasons.
As you can see from the photos, the clouds were still a bit threatening today but I was lucky and it was fairly sunny and the rain held off for my visit. Apart from the threatening weather, for a visitor paying full price, it wasn’t the ideal time to go there as it’s a bit mid-season: the spring bulbs were almost dead, their flowers almost gone; the magnolia trees, magnificent just a short time ago, were now looking sad and bedraggled too. But whatever the season, Kew never fails to impress and please.
There are always some trees or shrubs in blossom or with attractive foliage. Today there was buddleia blossoming and cherry trees in bloom. And there are magnificent trees like the Japanese Pagoda tree (shown above), being necessarily propped up now but given its age dates back to around 1760 it’s not surprising it needs a helping hand! A sign tells us that it’s also the source of a yellow dye extracted to colour silks and batiks.
Kew is a huge place: there are areas which vary so much that you might think yourself in a different place, from the formal areas near the Victoria Gate entrance and the Palm House to the woodland walks near Queen Charlotte’s Cottage. On a clear day, it’s great to climb the Treetop Walkway for a wonderful view for miles around; the Sackler Crossing is a modern, simple bridge with the most perfect, beautiful curve that spans the lake; the Princess of Wales Conservatory regularly houses special exhibitions and, of course, there’s the Pagoda to admire (not open to the public).
There are plenty of cafes selling meals and sandwiches, wonderfully indulgent cakes and good coffee and tea. There’s a shop and also a small nursery where you can buy plants and gorgeous pots, but since I’d unusually gone on the bus today rather than car, I had to resist the temptation to buy something nice for the garden – I did look though!
There’s free Wifi in Kew now and you can download – also for free – an app for your phone that gives you an up-to-the-minute guide to what’s on and what to look for in the gardens. I’ll be back soon and will share more in the future. Meanwhile, I ought to get on with my packing … I’m checked-in to my flight to Venice tomorrow but have still to pack my bag … well, I did tell you the other day that I always leave that till the night before!