Everyone has missed something during Lockdown since late March, due to the Coronavirus pandemic. There have been many common experiences but each person has had their own unique experience too. There have been some really difficult things to negotiate a way through for many people but, though I long for a return to a greater ‘normality’, I’m conscious of ‘gains’ too: more regular contact, albeit via FaceTime or Skype, with some family and friends; time to mentally process changes and think about what direction I want to take as Lockdown eases; focus on what’s really important in my life. If that sounds a little serious then I think a lot of people have experienced Lockdown as an imposed Retreat and been forced to take stock of various parts of their life – and that can be a good thing!
Apart from not seeing family and friends in person, which of course has been the most difficult thing, I’ve missed theatre, cinema, restaurants, art galleries, travelling; things as simple as taking a break from work and jumping on a bus into Richmond to stroll round the shops and stop for a coffee or maybe in the summer an ice cream. I’ve missed waking on a sunny morning and being able to just jump in the car and drive the couple of miles to Kew Gardens for a long walk in what are the largest and most diverse botanical gardens in the world. So when I got an email saying they were reopening I couldn’t resist booking a slot. They’ve obviously had to adapt to the social distancing rules and therefore even Friends of Kew Gardens (like me) who can normally just turn up, wave their membership card, and go in, need to book an entry slot (at no extra cost). Numbers are limited and booking is essential – you won’t be allowed in unless you’ve pre-booked.
I had an entry time of 11.00-11.45am this morning. Once in, you can stay as long as you like. It was a bit disappointing after the wonderful weather of late that it was a cloudy and slightly chilly morning, but there wasn’t rain! I’d been informed of various rules and changes to visiting in my booking email but was a little uncertain how I would find things when I arrived. I knew that entry was only via the Victoria Gate, but you can’t exit there; you have to exit via the Lion or Elizabeth gates (the less used Brentford Gate still operates a 2-way system). Once in, I wondered, would paths be marked – like in shops now – indicating you had to go in a particular direction? It turned out that once inside you could go in any direction you liked – still adhering to the 2m social distancing rule, of course. As warned, shops and restaurants, the glasshouses and galleries, were closed. But – as also informed – there as a stall where one could buy coffee. So, it being 11am and coffee time, coffee was first on my agenda once inside.
I passed the closed main shop and cafe to find an open coffee stall tucked just round the corner.
Soon I had a hot coffee and delicious carrot muffin in my hands.
Not far away I saw an empty bench and sat down to enjoy my snack with a view across to the Palm House.
There were a few people around but – as expected – it was fairly quiet and there was going to be no difficulty in maintaining the social distance required.
I’m so used to this view but what immediately struck me, looking over to the Palm House, was the lack of colour. Usually in June one would go into the Gardens and find a blaze of glorious colours, yet there wasn’t much colour in sight. The large beds in front of the Palm House, normally full of bright bedding plants, lay empty. I guess this is because while the Gardens were closed the gardeners couldn’t work. They were clearly trying to catch up now: bedding areas were newly dug over and composted; long hosepipes were watering newly planted areas.
After finishing my coffee, I took my accustomed route round the large pond. I always love this view back across to the Palm House.
Further round I walked a little way up the Great Broad Walk. This too would normally be full of colour at this time of the year but only a few bright things could be found that seemed (a bit like in my own garden!), leftovers from last year.
I backtracked towards the Palm House again.
Walking round to the back of the Palm House I came to the Rose Garden where bright roses were bursting all around. From almost no colour, suddenly I was surrounded by pinks, reds and yellows. Later on I found some heavily fragranced, white Philadelphus ‘Audrey’ near the Pagoda. Their wonderful perfume filled the air.
But back to the Palm House – from here I walked through deserted areas towards the lake and the Sackler Crossing. It was both weird and wonderful to be there when it was so quiet. I often choose – being a local – to go into Kew Gardens at quiet times and avoid the crowds and coach loads when I can, but this was a unique kind of quietness!
The lake and crossing are one of my favourite parts of the Gardens. I thought the bridge – the Crossing – might be closed but in fact people were walking across it; a notice asked you to keep to the left at all times to maintain social distance.
I didn’t go all the way across but headed back towards the Treetop Walkway and Temperate House. I know my way round well enough to know this was good route back towards the Lion Gate where I would exit. I’d planned ahead and parked my car near there and walked along the road (about 10 minutes) to go in at Victoria Gate.
This is a route I most often take anyway, liking to stop by the Japanese Gateway and garden and enjoy a moment of stillness there.
Moving on towards the Pagoda I went right up close.
I looked up to the dragons breathing their fire from above me!
I walked past the Pagoda and made my way through a slightly wooded area to the Lion Gate.
Once at the gate I met a riot of bright alstroemerias. They looked so gorgeous and cheerful, it was a wonderful way to end my visit.
I really enjoyed my visit. Things may be a little different inside the Gardens – much as they’re different outside! – with less colour and more overgrown parts. They were a little wilder than normal; less manicured. But still lovely and still very special. I’ve booked to go back next week. I feel so fortunate that Kew Gardens are one of my local gardens and I want to make the most of enjoying them now. I always go a lot throughout the year, but right now my visit this morning spoke of the hope of slowly getting back to doing the things we love best.