Kew Gardens are the most complete
public gardens in the world.
Covering 300 acre, the gardens
are full of varieties of tree, shrub and flower. There
are 38,000 different plant species at Kew, some entirely extinct
in the wild. Hidden among the trees are some historic
buildings including Kew Palace, the Great Pagoda and the Victorian
glass houses. From the beautifully tended parkland there
are views up and down the river and across to Syon House.
In the 18th century Kew was part
of the royal estates that stretched as far as Richmond.
Princess Augusta, the mother of George III, had the idea to
create a botanical garden in the grounds of Kew Palace where
she lived. George
III commissioned William Chambers to add a series of follies
and outhouses to the gardens.
The most striking of these buildings
is the Great Pagoda,a ten-storey octagonal tower built in
1762, inspired by a trip to China that Chambers took in his
The botanical garden's reputation
was established in the late-18th century when its keeper,
Sir Joseph Banks, the British naturalist and plant hunter,
planted specimens from all continents.
The steamy 'Aroid House' was
built by Nash in 1836 to house plants from tropical rainforests.
However, Kew Gardens only really came into its own in 1841,
when the royal gardens were donated to the nation by the crown,
opened to the public and expanded by more than 200 acres.
Sir William Hooker, the first
director, set Kew on a scientific and research footing.
He also commissioned Decimus Burton to create Kew's two glasshouses,
the Palm House and Temperate House.
The spectacular Palm House, built
between 1844-48, is the finest surviving Victorian glass and
iron structure in the country. It was originally heated
by coal, supplied by an underground railway from the Campanile,
100 yards away by Victoria Gate. The basement has now
been converted into a display of marine life.
The larger Temperate House, built
in the 1860's, is more conventional in structure. Covering
nearly 48,000 square feet, this is ideal for growing rare
and exotic trees. It's oldest plant, the Chilean wine
palm, was brought back as a seed in 1846.
Joseph Hooker, Sir William' son,
took over as director in 1865 and established the Jodrell
Laboratory to enhance Kew's research credentials. He encouraged
the artist Marianne North to set up a gallery at Kew to display
her collection of botanical paintings based on her world travels
between 1871 and 1885. The Marianne North Gallery, completed
in 1882, contains her collection of 832 paintings.
Today the Royal Botanic Gardens
are world-renowned as a centre for horticultural research,
and changes are still being made.
In the 20th century Kew Gardens
expanded into Wakehurst Place in Sussex, where a range of
plants benefit from the heavier rainfall and stable climate
of the South Downs.
In 1985 the 'Princess of Wales
Conservatory' was opened at Kew, with Kew's collection of
tropical herbaceous plants.
Museum No.1, opened in 1998,
opposite the Palm House, displays Kew's 'economic botanic'
the wood and plant materials which have been made into useful
materials for man, are a fishing net collected by the explorer
David Livingstone and a walking stick brought home by Sir