Sometimes wishes come true. I have a strong memory of driving along the river into Richmond when I was about 20 to visit my friend Tina who was at college here. It’s such a beautiful area of London that I remember having a deep wish that one day I could live here. Actually coming to live in Richmond was in the end more a case of chance than design but I’ve never been disappointed and still get a thrill from all it has to offer. Not least of its many attractions is Kew Gardens. This is one of my favourite places to walk and the £62 I spend a year on my Friends’ membership is money very well spent for I’m a regular visitor. My favourite time to visit Kew is early Sunday morning, soon after it opens at 9.30, when it’s quite empty and the coach loads of people coming from far and wide to visit these famous botanical gardens have not yet arrived.
One of the advantages of being a Friend and being able to visit whenever and as often as I like is visiting the gardens at different times of the year. I love the spring when you can catch the early signs of life as snowdrops burst through the ground. Summer is a blaze of colour but so too is autumn with wonderful golds and rusty reds looking stunning against a blue sky. But winter too has its attractions and it’s interesting to see what is thriving in the cold weather.
Kew Gardens was founded in 1840 but the history of there being gardens on the site goes back much further. Many royals built residences in the area, going back as far as 1299 when Edward 1 moved his court to Richmond. There’s a strong link between Richmond and the Tudors – a link borne out by the still popular and famous Maids of Honour tea room, which serves cakes originally made in the time of Henry VIII. Various royal estates were merged around 1722 and it’s at this time Kew Gardens as we know it started to come together. Various structures were built, including the Chinese pagoda in 1761. It still exists but I guess its great age is one of the reasons why it’s not open to the public. In 1840 the gardens were adopted as a national botanical garden; in 2003 they were named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Here are some photos from my walk this morning. Starting with those snowdrops!
Despite being early January and little in blossom, there was still wonderful colour to be seen.
There were signs of new life with blossom on viburnum and camellias.
A peacock was trying to get into the Orangery – now a café. Perhaps he fancied a drink!
Here’s the famous pagoda …
But if you’re looking for a bird’s eye view of the gardens you’ll have to climb to the top of the Rhizotron & Xstrata Treetop Walkway!
And view from the top:
For a moment or two you might even feel you’re in Rome:
But in fact these ‘Roman’ ruins were actually built in the 18th century when follies were fashionable. And when you feel in need of some refreshment, there are various cafés dotted around including this one at the Victoria Gate entrance, where you’ll also find a great shop and little nursery to buy plants.
I was in the gardens for about an hour and a half and walked just over 4 miles (I’d set the pedometer on my iPhone) but there was still lots I didn’t see. Of course, people come here for whole days but I’m lucky to have the gardens so close so that I can do shorter spells but quite often. So much do I love Kew Gardens I thought with the beginning of the year I’d follow through its year on the blog. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey too via my photos!
To find out more about Kew Gardens and opening hours, visit their website at www.kew.org