On a particularly beautiful day at the beginning of May, I woke up with another raging hangover and a sore head. Depressingly, I looked out the window for the millionth time, thinking; “I should really get out there, onto my doorstep, and into the world”, instead of wasting my life working Mondays to Fridays, only to be spending all my money and all my weekend, either being drunk, or moaning about the fact that I can’t remember being drunk, and now simply wanting to die.
So today was the day, where I grabbed my long suffering partner (Julien) and insisted we step out, and be tourists in our own city. And for reasons still unbeknownst to me, I decided on Kew Gardens. I’m certainly the sort of person who would scoff at those couples. Couples who decide to “waste” a good hungover Sunday in bed, by spending it in HELL, i.e. a place, with geraniums, screaming children, old grannies being pushed around in wheelchairs, and dogs crapping all over the bluebells. However –bam! Kew Gardens was thought up, and Kew Gardens it was.
On the train I was certainly thinking to myself “Why am I doing this?!”. Train lines were not running and hordes of families and holiday makers were squabbling in equal measures to make it to the same platform, all heading to Kew. However, from the second we left the station, it was like we had suddenly travelled lands and oceans from deepest, darkest Wandsworth Road, to the most idyllic little street, with market stalls lining each side, selling perfectly iced cakes, cheeses from Somerset, and handmade bunting and hanging baskets swaying from the lamp posts. It gave me that undoubtful feeling of “this is where the middle class come after they leave their city jobs at 35 and pop out their perfect curly haired children”. We didn’t belong – that’s for sure, yet could still appreciate its glory!
We soon left the little meandering market street, to cross over to the beautiful residential houses, where we passed grand semi new builds, with their unnecessary Range Rovers and petrol guzzling Jeeps. We passed over the road to the entrance of Kew Gardens, and after a quick evaluation of the risks of breaking and entering, due to entrance fee avoidance (£16 – OH MY GOD) we decided we’d come so far out of London we were basically in Cornwall, that we’d bite the bullet and pay.
Immediately we were taken a-back by the beauty…and how there certainly wasn’t a dog poop in sight. Looking to our right we saw the iconic glass Palm House, and like the child that I am, I grabbed my partner’s hand and yanked him excitedly in that direction.
I’ve always remembered my Mother telling me how my late Grandma absolutely loved Kew Gardens, and especially the Glass House. (In all honestly, this was the only part of the Kew Gardens stories I actually remembered, simply due to the fact that I always envisioned it being packed with the biggest tomatoes and nothing else.) Unfortunately / fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, you’ll be pleased to know that there wasn’t a tomato in sight. However, there was every kind of tropical plant you can think of. As we walked in, the heat hit us in the face, like a wall of close, damp sweat. This rather unpleasant feeling was almost immediately dispersed (thank God) by the use of misted water.
The Palm house encloses all sorts, from banana trees, to a slightly underwhelming aquarium. But it has to be said, one of the most impressive dwellers of the Glass House is the world’s oldest pot plant. Kew became the home of the one-tonne cycad in 1775. The Encephalartos altensteninii cycad (yes that was Googled) was apparently brought over from South Africa in the 1770s, being one of the many species of plants gathered for the Botanical Gardens during Captain Cook’s second voyage around the Globe.
After freaking out suitably about how many different humans have lived and died caring for this cycad, we moved onwards and upwards to the walkway that looped round the top of the Glass House. This again, granted beautiful views of Kew Gardens, the best being the centre back window, which offered the most incredible clearing all the way down to Kew Palace. As if this wasn’t breath taking enough, you had the added bonus of the juxtaposition of the heritage of these wonderful grounds, with the airline traffic soaring overhead to and from Heathrow Airport .
After posing adequately for all the pictures in this sunny little haven, we made our way next door to the Waterlily House, where we promptly left again after Julien attempted to take a fancy reflective picture, and nearly lost his phone to the cause.
Strolling around the gardens, I noticed the weight of my usual stresses and worries just lifting from my shoulders. It was so calming to see the sunlight dancing on the different leaves and petals, and making beautiful patterns with the shadows. Looking around, and seeing the other people casually strolling and taking it in also, you could feel their complacency too.
After wondering whether we should get the “train” around the gardens, and deciding it was probably only for people who have had hip replacements (Julien isn’t quite there yet), we walked round to the relatively new Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway.
Having very mild vertigo, I did find myself feeling a bit wonky, as I looked up at the 18 metre high structure. But I thought to myself, if I’ve done a canopy walk with zero health and safety in Malaysia, I could sure as hell do this English one!
So up we went, working out the butt muscles, ‘til we reached the shaky top. But well worth it it was, as we were right up in the tops of the trees. We felt we were in Endor, from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – having our eyes half peeled for any miniature little Ewok bears running around. Unfortunately, the only miniature things were irritating children, making it wobble even more.
After a few mandatory panoramic shots, we began our decent to the safety of the ground, and carried on exploring the gardens. We got to see the beautiful Japanese Pagoda. After pondering the reasoning for a Pagoda, and wondering what they are even used for, we agreed that we had no clue, but it looked lovely all the same.
We then followed the wandering path up to the top left corner of the grounds, through the enclosing woodlands, until we saw bluebells starting to emerge from in between the trees. The deeper into the woods we got, the more densely populated with the beautiful little flowers, the ground became. We then reached the clearing in which Queen Charlotte’s Cottage stood. It was almost like something out of a horror film, or maybe where Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandma lived before the wolf gobbled her up; some creepy old house in the thick of a beautiful but heavily wooded area. However, this was the best place to view the bluebells in their full glory. The thick canopy of treetops, combined with the clearing for the cottage, provided the most spectacular lighting, just allowing little bursts of sunrays to flow down and dance upon the flowers on the ground.
Moving on from here we cut down the centre of the grounds to the lake. On the map, I’d spotted the promise of “Sackler Crossing”. In all honesty, this did stir up my inner nerd, as the name made it sound like something from JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings; perhaps a quaint little ferry ride across some water where we’d be met with tankards of ale and rustic loafs. Nope…it’s literally just a bridge across a rather small lake…perhaps a stream even. Very pleasant though, nonetheless!
From here we walked through the Bamboo Garden and passed inside the Minka House (they’re great with the majestic names here) and then onwards and upwards to the Rhododendron Dell.
The Rhododendron Dell was really something quite spectacular. Walls of these beautiful flowers, in all shades imaginable. Personally, I found them to be a real cut above the rest in terms of floral species. Like the poser that I am, I tried to immerse myself within a wall of these flowers for what I’d hoped to be a lovely photo op. The longer I stood there, half faking sniffing the flowers and half doing it for real, I heard some faint buzzing in my ear. I could sense it getting closer and closer, until I realised that these lovely flowers were in actual fact home to the common bee. Not so idyllic after all.
We promptly left the bee infested rhododendrons and continued our walk down to the bottom right side of the grounds. With sore feet from the most energetic weekend I’d had since trying and failing to complete my Duke of Edinburgh Award, we decided that it was time to leave.
Verdict on Kew Gardens has to be a definite thumbs up. It more than surpassed my feelings towards Royal areas, which were; impertinent plants and pompous heritage, and instead offered an incredibly refreshing option as a day out for a young 25 year old girl, who would certainly usually choose a Sunday pub session over anything remotely cultural.