An Early Morning Walk in Kew Gardens – May 2023

I’ve often written about the world famous Kew Gardens, which I’m lucky to live very close to. I even recorded a whole year back in 2015 (click here) when I visited the gardens each month and delighted in keeping a close watch on all the changes through the year and gaining a better understanding the Gardens’ year cycle. I’m still a regular visitor and especially love it when in the summer months (1 May – 30 September) the Gardens open at 8.00 a.m. for Friends to get in early while it’s quiet, before they officially open at 10.00 a.m. Today, with a sunny morning promised, was the ideal time to head to Kew after breakfast and enjoy an hour or two walking in such a beautiful place.

But coffee came first. I was slightly alarmed as I entered Victoria Gate to see the shop – with a cafe inside – was closed. I was definitely in need of my morning coffee! Perhaps the early opening didn’t include the cafes? Though I was sure it had when I’d gone in early before … Thankfully, round the side I found a door open where I could go in and order coffee and a croissant.

I settled down at one of the tables on to which the sun shone and I had a lovely view across to the Palm House.

I was in a no hurry and just relaxed, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun and my excellent coffee. When I eventually moved on, a large wisteria stood before me. It’s wisteria time here in London and it seems that everywhere one goes, they stretch across walls and houses with their large flowers falling in an elegant way. I love the look of them but sadly don’t like their strong fragrance, so while I enjoy seeing them, I tend to keep my distance.

I was in the Gardens only a couple of weeks ago and since then the spring bulbs have been removed (they’d clearly been near their end) and now gardeners were busy planting bedding plants. In another couple of weeks or so, no doubt the area in front of the Palm House will be radiant with colour.

A little further on, I spied a glorious arrangement of aliums, standing very upright like soldiers standing sentinel.

They were all so perfect and wonderful to see.

I walked along the Broad Walk. Again, it was a little early to enjoy much colour but I gained a good view of The Hive. This striking installation, designed by artist Wolfgang Buttress, recreates the sound and experience of bees within a beehive when you walk inside it. I didn’t go inside today, but did a couple of weeks’ ago with the two eldest grandsons who thought it was very exciting.

I moved off the path and cut across grass, heading in the direction of the lake, which I always like to visit. On the way, I noticed much more of the land was given over to wild gardening than I’d seen before – rewilding, I guess – but there seemed to be a good balance between ‘wild’ and ‘gardened’. I was intrigued by the squat little acer trees in this area, leading towards a large tree, which a label told me was a Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipfera).

I stood close to the tree and looked up. I just love looking at trees and up to the sky through the branches.

A little further on some azaleas were starting to flower in bedding areas. Their colour was magnificent.

There were lots of huge seas of cow parsley too in various parts of the gardens, their feathery heads seeming to almost float across the land.

Finally, I had reached the lake and the wonderful Sackler Crossing. Installed in 2006, it was the first bridge to cross the lake. Designed by architect John Pawson, it won the 2008 Stephen Lawrence Prize. The lake itself was created in 1856 when the area was dug to provide gravel for the terrace of the original Temperate House.

I love the curves of the bridge and never fail to be excited by the sight of this area and at this early morning hour, I had it almost to myself!

I walked round the edge of the lake and passed a huge Californian Redwood.

Then, cutting up towards the Japanese area, I passed the most glorious rhododendron in flower.

The flowers were magnificent and such a pretty colour with slightly darker and lighter edges to it.

Then I was ‘in Japan’. Another area I always have to come to: the Japanese Landscape; the Pagoda rising in the distance.

I sat on a bench and looked across to the Chokushi-Mon (Gateway of the Imperial Messenger). Neatly clipped small bushes of rhododendron ‘Mother’s Day’ provided bright flashes of brilliant red colour. Of course, Japanese gardens are full of meaning and I knew ‘red’ represented something important but couldn’t remember what, so looked it up on my phone and learnt that red ‘represents wisdom, transformation and all that is sacred’.

I’ve always had a little Japanese area in my own garden. After taking the two eldest grandsons (Ben 5 and Freddie 8) to Kew a couple of weeks’ ago, when we got back to my house, Freddie decided my version wasn’t up to scratch. A trip to the local garden centre was promised to buy more Japanese plants – it’s a little early for some, like the Japanese anemone, so another Acer was bought. I say ‘another’ as I already had two. After spending some time in the Acer area of the garden centre, the boys settled on my buying the one on the left in the photo below. An assistant in the centre suggested I buy some of their fine gravel, which was perfect for a Japanese garden, but I said with four small grandsons running around it at different times, maybe I’d wait for that and stick with the not quite so fine gravel I already had for now. Back home, Freddie carefully rearranged it all. He did a great job and I now enjoy looking at it even more.

Back to Kew Gardens … I looked up at the Pagoda, which was built in 1762. In all the many years I’ve lived in the area, you’ve not been able to go inside, but now, following recent renovation, you can buy a ticket to climb to the top. I’ve not done it yet, but one day soon …

As I made my way back towards the Victoria Gate, I passed the Temperate House. Originally opened in 1863, it too recently underwent a major 5-year renovation and reopened in 2018.

The inside is quite jungle-like and contains 1,500 species of plants from Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Almost two hours after I’d entered the Gardens, I was back where I began at Victoria Gate. The Gardens were officially open now and visitors were starting to crowd through the gates. I, after a peaceful and gentle walk, was going to head home.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

2 thoughts on “An Early Morning Walk in Kew Gardens – May 2023

  1. Thank you for bringing back fond memories of my visit (with my daughter) to Kew several years ago.
    US (Pennsylvania)

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