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Kew Gardens (London)

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Royal Botanic Gardens / Richmond / Kew.

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      22.08.2013 08:12
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      A great day out in London

      Despite having lived in London for over two years, I'd never been to Kew. At a loss for something to do on Sunday, however, I decided to finally visit. I caught a bus from my home in west London which dropped me off outside, however there is also an Underground and Overground service nearby in the form of Kew Gardens station (you could also try wombling free - sorry, bad joke).

      Though Kew opens at 9.30 am in the summer, I didn't get there until 1 pm, and wished I had turned up earlier as there was a bit of a queue - I only had to wait around fifteen minutes, however. Kew is huge - the site covers 132 hectares (326 acres) and there is a lot to see. It is possible to take the ""Kew Explorer"", a kind of open bus, around the gardens, with regular departures at key points plus a commentary - but this costs £4 (£1 for a child) so I didn't bother. I wished I had by the end of the day, though, as I was shattered!

      The ""Temperate House"" (along with its neighbour ""Evolution House"") is currently closed for restoration until 2018. This was a shame, as it is the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world (opened 1863, the same year as the first London Underground line) and I would have liked to see it. Still, I suppose they've got to do their restoration work sometime - and it was one less thing for me to visit.

      Instead, I headed right and went into the ""Palm House"". As the name suggests, this glasshouse holds an amazing variety of palms. Not being a gardening expert, I grew slightly bored after looking at a few, but the general atmosphere of the house was evocative. In fact, it was rather TOO evocative - up on the walkway, it was so hot and humid that I thought I was going to faint! Underneath the glasshouse, there were - bizarrely - a number of fishtanks.

      Outside, I popped into the nearby ""Waterlily House"". Though it was small, the waterlilies were amazing - but there was the same humidity problem I had experienced in the Palm House, so I made a fast exit.

      As a respite from the humid greenhouses, I decided to have a look inside the ""Plants & People"" exhibition in a stone building behind the lake. This looked at the ways in which people make use of plants, from food and housing to furniture, jewellery, musical instruments and pain relief. The exhibition was fascinating, if a little too packed to take everything in.

      Next, I headed towards the ""Princess of Wales Conservatory"", which was one of my favourite parts of Kew. Inside, varying climates are replicated in different areas to show the different kinds of plants that grow in varied climates. For instance, cacti and plants such as aloes grow in the desert - I was fascinated by one species that resembles a group of stones, which helps protect it from predators. Delicate orchids grow in more temperate climates, while leafy palms prefer tropical environments. I was also interested in the room of carnivorous plants: I spent some time watching a fly hovering round the edge of one to see if it would be eaten - luckily it survived this time!

      After this I wandered over to ""Kew Palace"". This palace is small by palatial standards, resembling a small country manor more than a royal home. Famously, it is the place where George III stayed during his bouts of 'madness' (probably porphyria). Poignantly, the dishes from which he was fed during his worst days are on display, as are letters relating to his illness. The rooms at the top of the house are unrestored and stripped back, allowing us to get an idea of what they would have been like when Georgian princesses lived in them. Round the corner from the Palace are the ""Royal Kitchens"", the only remaining part of the former palace complex that stood on the site.

      After stopping for a piece of cake and a cup of tea at the ""White Peaks Café"", I spent some time exploring the top end of the gardens. There were fewer people at this end and it was peaceful and pleasant, with beautiful plants and trees everywhere. At one point I was walking by the river. Eventually I passed the ""Badger Sett"", which is designed for kids to explore - obviously I didn't go in here but it looked like the kids who were there were having a great time!

      Eventually I came to the ""Treetop Walkway"", which allows you to see round the gardens, although I couldn't see much except the tops of the trees (and the Temperate House through a gap in some of them). The walkway is high and there are lots of stairs, but there is also a lift. The walkway itself can be worryingly wobbly, but it seems sturdy enough, and the barriers around it are high.

      After this, I wandered over to the bottom corner of the gardens to admire the ""Pagoda"" and the ""Japanese Gateway"" before walking in the direction of Victoria Gate (the main gate, where I came in) once again. On the way, I entered the ""Marianne North Gallery"" and the ""Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art"". The former contains hundreds of beautiful watercolours painted by Victorian artist Marianne North, while the latter is currently displaying beautiful and intricate paintings of flowers and vegetables (which are more interesting than they sound!).

      I was really exhausted by this time, so after a quick look at the ""Mediterranean Garden"", I headed off. Not before treating myself to some hand cream and wildflower body spray in the shop first, though!

      **Visitor Info**
      Kew has several entrances: the Victoria Gate is the main gate on Kew Road - other gates can be found to the left of the Victoria Gate (Lion Gate), the right (Elizabeth Gate) and by the river (Brentford Gate, for cars and motorbikes only).

      Tickets are priced at £16 for adults (£14.50 without the 'voluntary' donation - I hate this practice but loads of places do it nowadays), but I was able to get in for half price with my Art Fund pass. Concessions are £14 (or £12.50) and children under 16 go free. This summer, it is also possible to buy a "lazy summer afternoons" ticket for £7 if you turn up after 3.30 pm.

      Opening times vary with the season; in summer the gates open at 9.30 am and close at 7.30 pm, though most attractions within the gardens close at least half an hour earlier.

      **Eating and Drinking**
      There are two restaurants at Kew, and two cafes, so there's lots of choice whether you want a snack or a full meal. The food is pricey, but no more so than other cafes I've come across inside visitor attractions, and I thought it was good quality and tasty - I especially recommend the treacle tart! Of course you can bring a picnic if you prefer and eat it in the beautiful surroundings of the gardens. There are water fountains dotted throughout Kew so you can get a drink.

      ***Conclusion***
      I had a really lovely day at Kew and I would recommend it to anyone. I think you'd get the most out of it if you have a particular interest in gardening or plants, but I haven't and I still managed to have a good time. There is a lot to do for children too, including play areas, and they get in for free.

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        28.08.2010 11:28
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        For a relaxing trip with plenty of fresh air go for it

        Recently wanting to see something different on a sunny day I was told about the Kew gardens at Kew (District Line). Its easily accessible by the underground and after a whooping ticket price of £13.50 I was admitted in. I was quite hesitant thinking that I am going to get bored at seeing greenhouses and plants but I was so wrong. The whole place is like a huge park filled with vibrant life especially on a sunny day. There were a few greenhouses and were a delight to look at being authentic with their very own amazonian sounds

        The park itself was massive and diverse from plants all around the world and everybody found an are which they were fascinated. I myself loves the insect eating plants while my girlfriend enjoyed the plants based on the water and lakes. There were places to eat and other facilities dotted all over the garden which was convenient. In addition there were large lakes and small waterfalls which was very soothing to the eye.

        One of the best attraction was a man-made rooftop skyline which took us high up and let us walk about to see a panoramic view of the park and the tall trees. Although everyone says it takes 3- 4 hours, I ended up staying about 6-7 hours.

        A definite recommend to everyone even those without a green thumb because if this doesnt change your mind nothing will.

        Also its very good exercise. Must have walked miles without realizing it. Not bad instead of sitting on the couch on a Sunday

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          21.07.2010 19:52
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          Makes for a good family day out

          A lovely sunny Friday in June 2010 was just asking for us to go somewhere nice for the day (as both my husband and I had the day off work). We'd considered visiting Kew Gardens for quite a while as he'd never been there and I hadn't been for a good 25 years or so since my mid teens.


          GETTING THERE AND GETTING IN

          It took us about 20 minutes to drive there as we're only 4 or 5 miles away from Kew. A bus journey from home would have taken about 45 minutes. The nearest underground station is Kew Gardens which is a 5-10 minute walk from the actual Gardens (Victoria Gate entrance). If you arrive via Kew Bridge mainline station the nearest entrance is the Main Gate which is a 10-15 minute walk.

          I remembered from having worked in nearby Richmond some years ago that there was always ample parking right outside Kew Gardens on single yellow lines on Kew Road (A307) which you are allowed to park on from 10am onwards (not sure why they even bother with the single yellow lines though as you can park there ALL day after 10am). There were lots of coaches parked closest to the entrance so we had a 10 minute walk from where we managed to find the first free parking space along the outer wall of the Gardens. The walls surrounding the Gardens on Kew Road are quite high so you can't see in from outside!

          We entered via Victoria Gate which is actually the main entrance although there is another gate called the Main Gate which is somewhat smaller than Victoria Gate. I'm not sure why the real main gate isn't called the "Main Gate" but anyway...

          When you enter via Victoria Gate there are several booths where you can go to pay your entrance fee. We noted that there were about 4 booths open and we didn't have to queue at all. As we arrived at 11am we felt that we were lucky to have missed the earlier crowds at the paying booths as we had seen so many coaches parked outside.

          There are two further gates Brentford Gate and Lion Gate, the latter being one of the quietest entrances with the fewest visitors entering this way.

          I had looked up the prices on the internet before going and found out that it was £13.50 each or 2 for the price of 1 if you went by Network Rail (although you have to provide evidence of your journey to use this offer). There was also a 20% discount voucher available online which I printed off to use. Concession prices are £11.50 (students with ID and those over 60) and children under 17 are free. Disabled visitors also only need pay £11.50 with registered blind or the partially sighted gaining free admission as well as carers for disabled visitors. These prices are valid until March 2011. There are also discounts available for groups of 10 or more which are further reduced if purchased at least 14 days before your visit. We paid £21.60 for 2 of us with our 20% discount voucher. There are several wheelchairs available for public use by the entrance.


          ABOUT THE GARDENS

          Kew Gardens, official name The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, consists of over 300 acres of gardens and greenhouses in Surrey. Situated between Richmond and Kew, the Gardens have been around in one form or another since the 1700s although it wasn't until around 1840 that the Gardens were given national botanical garden status.

          Within the Gardens there are various attractions to see, most of which are included in the entry price including various museums, galleries and greenhouses. If you like walking and like greenery and scenery (hey that rhymes) this is a lovely day out. I don't intend to discuss every part of the Gardens as it would defeat the object of you visiting if you knew every detail about it already - I do feel there should be some mystery remaining so you can explore it for yourself.

          One of the first places we visited within Kew Gardens was the Palm House which is essentially a rather large greenhouse which was built in the 1840s to house exotic palms but now houses many other tropical plants. It is considered to be the most important remaining Victoria glass and iron construction. The temperature control aspect of the Palm House is very important and unless you're very comfortable in tropical climates you will find it rather too warm in the palm house for comfort. We walked around slowly at first stopping to look at the many different types of tropical plants housed inside and to read about them but within 10 minutes we found ourselves feeling too warm to want to hang around inside for much longer. If you're into horticulture you'll be fascinated by the many different plants in the Palm House. Due to some of the palm trees being quite tall they were moved to the central part of the Palm House which is the tallest (central dome). The Palm House has been restored a couple of times since being built but the latest overhaul was in the mid 1980s where the whole building had to be emptied and plants and trees were temporarily rehoused whilst the maintenance went on. This work had to be overseen by the Property Services Agency as this is a Grade 1 Listed building.

          The Temperate House is a huge Victorian glasshouse which is quite fabulous looking! It covers over 4,800 square meters and is 19 meters high at its highest point. Opened first in 1863 it costs a fortune to keep it in good condition. I found myself feeling quite warm inside this greenhouse too but not as warm as we found the Palm House. The heat inside the Temperate House needs to be kept at a minimum of 10°C all year round. The tallest tree in here is the Chilean Wine Palm which is well over 17m high and still growing!

          Kew Palace is on situated within the grounds of Kew Gardens and at the time of writing it costs a separate £5 to go inside. On my most recent visit I didn't bother paying £5 as I personally don't believe in paying to visit British royal homes. This palace was built in 1663 and to be honest it doesn't look much like a palace from the outside but it does look like a rather expensive mansion. It was formerly known as Dutch House and our current Queen, Elizabeth II had her 80th birthday party here in 2006 after it had been closed for 10 years for restoration.

          The Orangery is a Grade I listed building which was built in 1761 which looks very attractive from a distance. It is now advertised as an elegant restaurant but on our visit we found it to be nothing more than a cafe type establishment with rather extortionate prices with rather basic and uncomfortable seating inside and quite cheap looking tables outside. We felt that the prices at the Orangery eatery were very expensive for what you got, e.g. it was £1.20 for a regular packet of crisps (which costs about 50p in a regular shop, less in a supermarket), £2 for a small bottle of fruit juice or bottled water.

          The Great Pagoda was erected in the 1760s and at its highest point is 50m high. In the centre of the Pagoda are steps, 253 of them. We didn't feel sufficiently energetic to attempt them and just admired the building from the outside.

          The Princess of Wales Conservatory was opened by Princess Diana in 1987 who was then Princess of Wales although this Conservatory was named after Princess Augusta (the founder of Kew Gardens). This is one of the most complicated structures at Kew with 10 different computer controlled climate zones within.

          Museum No 1 houses the Plants and People exhibit which has some interactive features such as Tuneful Plants where you can hear "musical" type sounds make by various plants and the Scent Station where you can have a sniff of various plants. My husband really enjoyed playing with these items whilst I stood around dutifully taking photos of him having fun! The exhibit is quite small and will only take between 10-20 minutes to walk around the whole floor. The original museum was commissioned by Sir William Hooker who wanted somewhere to display information about how important plants are to mankind. The original museum is now called Museum No 2 and is more commonly referred to as the School of Horticulture.

          The Pagoda Tree is the only surviving pagoda tree specimen which dates back to the 1760s. We found this quite an unusual tree to look at especially as it grows horizontally. As we stood and read about the tree, some teenagers went past and made some silly comments about the tree which made me think back to when I was a teenager and my classmates made those kinds of comments about what is essentially just a tree!

          The Nash Conservatory is made of a Greek Temple stone design and is fairly small. When we entered there was only one other person there who left within a few minutes. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the building and enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere whilst admiring the pictures displayed such a selection of images of "Natural Designs"

          The Temple of Arethusa is not far from the Victoria Gate entrance/exit. This structure is quite small; literally consisting of 3 walls and a roof housing a bench and a memorial plaque bearing the names of Kew staff who gave their lives in World Wars I & II.

          Instead of going into much more detail about the different attractions, I'm now listing some of the other places of interest within Kew Gardens (note: this isn't a full list of all of the attractions):

          * Rock Garden
          * Bonsai House
          * Ice House
          * Marine Display
          * Aquatic Garden
          * Princess Walk
          * Conservation Area
          * Cambridge Cottage
          * Badger Sett
          * Azalea Garden
          * Holly Walk
          * Monkey puzzle tree
          * Water lily House
          * Temple of Bellona
          * Duke's Garden
          * Replica of the Medici Vase


          Situated between the Palm House and Museum No. 1 is a large pond - it was very soothing to sit on the nearby benches and just watch the ducks go by. We were highly amused by the "Which Bird?" interactive board on one side of the pond on which you could press buttons by the names of various types of duck and hear the sound of that duck. I literally had to drag hubby away from it so a young child could have a go!

          During our visit we noticed various groups of gardeners working around the Gardens. We stopped a few times on our travels to ask them what they were planting and found everyone to be very helpful and more than willing to discuss the items they were in the process of planting or moving to other beds. One assumes that it will always look "pretty" when you visit a place like Kew but people are working there all year round to make it look the way it does and of course many flowers are seasonal so the flower bed displays around the Gardens have to be constantly monitored and changed at the relevant times/seasons.


          RATING

          Overall I would rate Kew Gardens with a decent 4 out of 5 stars. It's a jolly nice day out and if you're lucky enough to have good weather you will really enjoy it. This is something for people of all ages to enjoy but I would seriously advise anyone visiting to wear comfortable shoes fit for walking.

          I do feel the pricing is quite high and I resent the idea of having to pay an extra £5 to go inside Kew Palace on top of the £13.50 entrance fee. Anything you can buy on site from food to souvenirs seems to be quite overpriced and for that reason I probably wouldn't hurry back there. If I did, I would make sure I packed a picnic of some sort.

          I would mention here that you could walk around Kew Gardens all day and not be able to see everything; so it might take a couple of visits to explore the Gardens inside out if you're that way inclined.


          CONTACT DETAILS

          The address for Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is:
          Victoria Gate
          Kew Road
          Richmond
          Surrey
          TW9 3AB
          020 8332 5655
          URL: http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/

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            16.06.2010 11:56
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            A terrific day out for horticulturalists, families, couples and anyone wanting to chill!

            I was on the tube a couple of years ago and a couple of American tourists were chatting about their day.
            One had been to Kew Gardens. 'Is it good?' asked the other.
            'Weeell....it's ok if you like plants,' she replied.


            The clue is kind of in the name really. But to be honest, I don't think you need to be a real plants/gardens/parks person to enjoy spending time here, although those horticulturalists among you will think you are in heaven, of course.

            I went last weekend with Mr ToT. Now I love the great outdoors. He really doesn't. So we made it a fairly quick visit (3 hours) to see some of the highlights and in the end both really enjoyed it. Three hours was enough for him but I could spend all day there...

            Facts'n'figures
            Kew Gardens is one of the world's premier horticultural collections, set in 120 acres, with umpteen glasshouses, buildings and other collections such as galleries, and it holds one in eight of all known plant species. It was established 250 years ago.

            It is located in Kew, Richmond, near London. It is open every day apart from 24/25 December from 9.30am until 7.30pm in summer, or 6pm in winter.

            Entry: Adults £13.50. Concessions £11.50. Children under 17 free. It is part of the rail 2-4-1 voucher scheme so if you pick up a voucher either from a railway station or off the internet, and travel by train, you get two tickets for the price of one. This makes it excellent value; especially if you have children.

            Travel: As well as the entry advantages, it's best to come by public transport as there is no carparking on site and many of the surrounding streets are residents only. The nearest station is Kew Gardens (on District and Overland tube lines) and it's just a five minute walk.

            Our visit

            On entry we received a very good map of the gardens so unless you want more detail or a souvenir, there's no need to buy the guidebook for £5.

            I'd been to Kew as a child, but couldn't remember much, and it was Mr ToTs first visit. We were taken aback by the size and scale of the place. It is huge, with buildings, glasshouses and displays set out in a beautiful rolling parkland, full of trees, lakes and wonderful vistas. Before us stood a sparkling lake with an immense Victorian iron-framed glasshouse rising behind like the upside-down prow of a ship.

            If you are expecting a bit of a park and a few greenhouses, you need to upgrade your expectations fast! We were lucky enough to be visiting on a sunny day but even so, it is such a tranquil and beautiful place, and I could immediately feel the stresses and tensions of the working week being lifted from me.

            A quick trip to the loos ( nice and clean) and it was lunchtime. We took a quick look at the cafe by the entrance but didn't fancy cake or sandwiches, which was all it had to offer, so followed the signs to the Pavilion Restaurant, which was advertising a barbecue.

            We found the barbecue area but as it was nearly 3pm, they were packing up. However, we weren't too sorry as the prices on the board absolutely staggered us! £8.50 for a burger up to £16.50 for monkfish and prawn kebabs! That didn't even include any side dish with them, eg corn on cob was £4, coleslaw was £3, roast potatoes £4. So we headed indoors and again were pulled up short by the prices on display. Now, I know that cafes at attractions tend to be a bit on the pricey side, especially ones that have a very 'middle class' type of image such as Kew, but the prices here were just too much for us to stomach (ha!).

            Sandwiches were £3.25-£4.50. There was a salad bar for £8. Other than that there were full cooked meals from about £10. They had nothing in-between, like a jacket potato with filling, that you want just to fill a gap at lunchtime. Pretty disgusted, we turned to the cake counter. We both chose the coffee and walnut cake as it looked good, and seemed to be the best value with a decent sized slice for £3. Other cakes were poor value: biscuits at £2 for example!

            The drinks were more normally priced but Mr ToT was rather bemused to have a hot chocolate served up in a glass with no handle, making it impossible to drink until it had cooled down enough not to burn his fingerprints off. Our cake was admittedly very good indeed.

            However, I feel that there is a serious lack of mid-range foods at Kew Gardens. It's either a sandwich/slice of cake or a full-on meal, and everything is very highly priced. If we came again I'd definitely bring a picnic. If you were bringing a whole family it could be a very nasty shock to your pocket.

            Finally refreshed, we looked at the map to choose where to visit. There are so many options here that could easily keep you occupied all day. We had to pick our top few, which I'll describe a bit more, but there are several large glasshouses and plant collections other than the ones I'll talk about (for example a Bonsai House, a Rose Garden) , a new children's indoor and outdoor play area, A Treetop Walkway that takes you up into the crown of the trees for fabulous views, a badger sett you can enter, galleries of paintings, Queen Charlotte's cottage...and much more.

            We went first into the Temperate House. This is the oldest glasshouse in the world and contains an interesting range of plants from across the world. It is also home to the world's largest indoor plant - a tree that measured at 58' in 1985 and is still growing. Does that give you an idea of the scale of these glasshouses? Ginormeous, as my neice would say.
            We just wandered randomly, enjoying the atmosphere and stopping to look at trees and plants that caught our attention, but everything is tagged and there is a lot of information about if you are more serious about your plants.

            When we came out we were just in time to jump on the last 'Explorer' train of the day. This has 8 stops throughout the park and is a great way to either move between different attractions, or just get an overview of the park if you go all the way round. This is what we did, and we enjoyed a 20 minute trip around the further reaches of the park, seeing the Japanese pagoda, the lakes, the trees and views, the River Thames and so on, without having to do all that walking. Well, we were on a short visit (excuses, excuses). The train costs £4 for adults, £1 for children and you pay the driver, who then gives you a wrist band so that you can ride as much as you like that day.

            We went past a collection of willow sculptures that we really appreciated, and past the new play areas which were ringing with shrieks, shouts and laughter, so it sounds as if they are good! The driver gave an interesting commentary on his way round and we all laughed at the poor 'unlucky tree' that gets repeatedly struck by lightning and has now had its own lightning conductor fitted.

            We then visited the Palm House, which is absolutely beautiful just as a building, dating from the 1840s, and recreates a tropical rainforest environment. We had terrific fun wandering round gigantic palms, trees and ferns and imagining ourselves down in the deepest jungle. There's just something about a 6' long leaf that seems so romantic to us poor cold-weather Brits, isn't there.

            Near that was the water lily house. Much smaller than the other houses, it was still breathtakingly beautiful and we must have spent about 20 minutes just standing still and gazing around. The lilies are impressive - giant leaves up to 6' across - and they are flowering right now so this added an extra interest. We also enjoyed the smaller plants around the edges and especially the pitcher plants growing from hanging containers. Sounds gruesome but these are carnivorous and it was interesting to see their little 'pitchers' of water with poor done-in insects floating around in them. Made us feel like David Attenborough himself!

            From there we had a wander round the lake, admired some of the statues and fountains, and kept away from the swans. One excellent feature of the park is that there are lots of benches everywhere so you don't get too foot-sore. We took a quick peep round the plant shop with Mr ToT persuading me that I couldn't carry a 4' bush home with me on a 2 hour train journey. The plants seemed quite reasonably priced.

            We exited through the gift shop, buying another fridge magnet for our collection, and set off home, happy, tired, and glad that we'd made the effort to come to this iconic British attraction. When we were there it seemed to be mostly foreign tourists, which is a shame, as it's a place everyone should try to get to once.

            It really is a wonderful place to visit, with something for all ages, and is very cost-effective on the 2-4-1 deal to get in. A whole family can go for £13.50. Just take a picnic; that's my advice!

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              15.01.2010 19:11
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              highly reccomended

              I originally went to kew gardens on a school art trip and i have loved the place ever since. I have always loved nature and whats great about kew is that it is a haven for nature in the middle of central london.

              So what are the kew gardens? Well quite simply a massive collection of flowers and gardens in the centre of london in the town of kew which is near Richmond. It has been around for quite a while now infact last year they celebrated their hundreth anniversary. They specialise in exotic plants and wildlife, some of which i had never seen before going. They have a range of buildings gardens and lakes which you can walk round and enjoy.

              What is great about Kew is the diverse range of flowers from all over the world. There are two massive kind of greenhouses which hold thousands of plant. They are so big that there are even fully grown trees from the Amazon basin inside. There is also a cool tree-top walkway at the top of the greenhouse which you can walk around and under the whole thing is an exotic aquariem.

              I love Kew it really inspired me when i was younger because they have such an amazing collection of flowers. I particlully like the venus fly tarp they had. I partically like who this amazing space of landscaped gardens and lakes is right in the centre of London. You can literally walk straight of the street into a paradise of fresh air and beautiful flowers.

              I highly recommend a visit because it is a great place although from memory it is quite expensive to get in but you can get in for cheaper over the winter.

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              10.08.2009 19:00
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              An amazing day out!

              We have been trying to think of different places to take our daughters during the summer holidays and yesterday we decided to take them to Kew Gardens. It's a place that I have never visited before (even though it is only a forty five minute drive from where we live) and I did not really know what to expect. To be honest, I thought it was just going to be loads of plants in a few large greenhouses and I was a little worried that my daughters might soon get bored. How wrong could I be?

              There are various different entrances to Kew Gardens but we entered through the Main Gate which is the nearest entrance to Kew Bridge Station. There are not any parking facilities as such but it is possible to park on many of the local roads after 10 am (taking into account any restrictions of course). You pay your entrance fee on the gate and this is very reasonable. Adult tickets are £13 each, concessions are £11 and amazingly, children under the age of 17 are free! These prices make it such a reasonable day out especially compared to the very expensive theme parks. However, we got an even better deal and got a £15 family ticket through an offer with Jordan's cereals. I think this offer only goes through to September 2009 but it is definitely worth looking out for!

              When you pay for your tickets you will be given a map and you will definitely need this. I had not appreciated just how vast the Kew Gardens park is and how many different things there are to do. It's definitely much more than just a couple of greenhouses! What you also soon realise is that it will be virtually impossible to do and see everything in one day so it's a good idea to sit down with the map and choose the things that you really want to do. It's also very advisable to wear some comfortable shoes because I can guarantee that you will be doing a lot of walking!

              One of the things that I really enjoyed was just walking around the extensive grounds. Everything is so well kept and there are so many beautiful trees and plants to take in. I don't profess to know very much at all about plants but that did not stop me appreciating the size and beauty of my surroundings. Also at the start of our visit there was a real tranquillity about the park. Because it is so big, you are not really aware of the number of other visitors who are there with you. Later in the day it did feel a bit busier but it never felt really crowded. It just felt wonderful walking about in such beautiful open spaces.

              When we first entered there were a number of interesting wood sculptures to take in. These were very large and also very unusual so it was fun to play a guess what they were meant to be game. There are lots of information boards there as well so it's easy to find out. In fact there are so many of these but you definitely can't take in all the information in one visit.

              As we were there with our two young daughters we wanted to make sure that they were happy with the day. On the Kew Gardens website you can look at all the activities for children and you can even download and print trails for them to follow. We didn't do this but I do think that it's a good idea and would definitely do it for another visit. Having said that, all the activities that are likely to appeal to children are marked in blue on the map so we just looked out for those.

              One of the first things that we did was to head for the indoor playground. This is called Climbers and Creepers and is ideal for wonderful interactive play with a botanical theme. Amongst other things, children can find out what it would be like to be swallowed up by a Venus Fly Trap or slide down a giant Pitcher plant. My daughters really loved this area and it did look very attractive and organised. There is a danger that it could get incredibly warm in there though as it is in a greenhouse type building. We got there when it opened at 10.30 and already it was feeling pretty close so goodness knows how it felt in the heat of the afternoon! There is meant to be an outdoor play area too but at the moment this is being reconstructed so this was definitely not in use. Having said that though, with so much open space to run around in, you could argue that children don't really need anything else.

              Our next port of call was the Treetop Walkway. This is definitely not for anyone who suffers from vertigo as it is, as you would surmise from the name, a very high walkway constructed so you can walk around at the top of the trees. It is a sturdy structure but I have to confess that being so high up did cause me to feel a little wobbly in my legs and I did not feel I could look down. Both the girls loved it up there though and did not seem to be bothered by the height at all and it did offer some spectacular views. You have to climb up lots of steps to get to the walkway as it is eighteen metres high but this was not too tiring. There is a lift for people who would have trouble climbing the stairs, but unfortunately, this was out of order.

              There are a number of ponds and lakes on the park and we headed for a large size lake with a Sackler Crossing. Quoting from the website this is a bridge that is 'designed to foster clear visual links between the man-made structure of the bridge and the natural contours of its setting - the gently rounded shoreline, the smooth expanse of the Lake and the powerful verticals of trees. The deck is formed of rhythmic bands of black granite laid horizontally. Cast bronze vertical cantilevers rise between the granite treads to form simple balustrades.' This was really beautiful and the girls loved being able to crouch down and get really good views of the lake through the balustrades.

              We also visited a number of the glasshouses where you could see much more exotic plants. We went to the Temperate House which housed wonderful plants from far flung continents such as the Americas, Australia and South Africa. We also visited the Palm House which has some wonderful specimens to look at too and also the Water lily House with an absolutely beautiful pond with perfectly formed lily pads. This was my favourite even though it was the smallest. I was concerned that the heat would be quite unbearable in the glasshouses but, once you got used to the humidity it was not too bad. It was lovely to walk through misty jets of water in the Palm House that were cooling the plants down. Both the Temperate and Palm Houses also had glass top walkways which meant that you could climb spiral staircases and walk around the top of the buildings looking down on the plants. After my wobbly legs on the Treetop Walkway, I decided to stay firmly on the ground but the girls went up and walked around with their daddy, He said it was amazing what they noticed from up above that you did not see from the ground so it is definitely worth doing!

              You could very easily take a picnic to Kew and eat out anywhere in the lovely grounds. We had decided that as we were getting such a good deal on the entrance price that we would treat ourselves to lunch and there were many places to choose from with lots of outdoor and indoor seating. We ate in the Pavilion Restaurant which was self service. There were hot and cold meals to choose from as well as plenty for children. Both girls chose a lunchbox where they could choose five items and there was plenty to choose from - rolls, drinks, crisps, fruit, fromage frais, carrots, cakes and so on. In the lunchbox was a lovely surprise too as there was a packet of seeds to take home and plant. I had a salad and could choose many delicious things from the salad bar. It was lovely. My husband chose a hot meal which was basically chicken and vegetables but very nice too. We also treated ourselves to a piece of gorgeous lemon drizzle cake. This was not cheap at about £2.50 but the slice was huge so we really could not have managed one each. Overall we probably spent about £30 on food and drink including some coffee and juices earlier in the day. This was not too unreasonable, I thought, and everything really was excellent quality.

              All in all it was a fabulous day out although by the end we were quite exhausted. There is the option of using the Kew Explorer which is a sort of bus that goes around the site and there are various stops that you can get on and off at. I didn't actually see this at all yesterday although I assume it was running. To use this costs an extra £4 for adults and £1 for children. It is also worth noting though that if you are walking around there are plenty of benches where you can sit and have a rest and just take it all in! I think it is a very helpful offering for people who would struggle to walk that far. I haven't described everything that is there because we got to a point where we were just flagging too much and had to make our way homewards. I hope though, that through describing the things that we did that I have given a flavour of what is there.

              Kew gardens is open every day of the year apart from 24th and 25th December. Gates open at 9.30 am and close at 7.30 pm in the summer and 6 pm the rest of the year.

              For excellent information and to find out about all the work that takes place at Kew you can visit the website at

              www.kew.org

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                16.04.2009 18:59
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                The Best Botanical Gardens in the World

                Kew Gardens, in west London, are probably the best and most famous botanical gardens in the world and the model on which many others are based. There are several interesting buildings including a royal palace and large glasshouses ranging from a few years old to several hundred years housing tropical plants and even the world's oldest pot-plant, which lives in the Palm-House. Outside there are plants and trees from all over the world. There are indoor and outdoor restaurants including one in the Orangery, another historic building in the park. Kew Gardens is also used as a venue for summer concerts, including Jools Holland who frequently plays there.

                The main emphasis of the gardens is of course botany, but it is also a good place to see animals. Wild Indian Ring-Necked Parakeets live in Kew, Richmond Park and the surroundings. These small parrots, according to local folk-law, escaped during the filming of a drama (The area is popular with film-makers due to its proximity to central London, Television and Film Studios) There are also some black swans in one of the lakes and a good variety of other bird-life. There are also some very rare newts living in some of the ponds although you are unlikely to see these.

                The Pagoda in Kew was built in 1762 for Princess Augusta, the Princess of Wales, mother of King George III and originator of the first botanical gardens at this site. It has recently been opened to the public after many years of being closed and gives a fantastic view across Richmond Borough. It is almost 50 metres tall (more than 150 feet) and was the tallest Chinese style building in Europe at the time of construction. It is a fairly accurate imitation of a Chinese construction although should have an odd number of storeys to be completely accurate.

                Kew has more than 10% of all known plant species of the world, but the southern British climate cannot support many of these species, so there are several different glass-houses providing different climates. The Temperate House (built in 1861) and The Palm House are perhaps the most impressive, but the newer Princess Diana glasshouse is also extremely impressive.

                Getting to Kew gardens by car can be a bit slow, because of the traffic in that area, although it is a short walk from Kew Gardens tube station on the District Line and the Lion Gate entrance is just a mile or so from Richmond railway station. There is a fairly large car park near the main entrance off Kew Green, near Kew Bridge. Kew Gardens is a wonderful place to spend a few hours, but is quite expensive at £13 (free for children) and another £5 for entrance to the Palace.

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                  25.02.2009 16:32
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                  Pick a sunny day, take a picnic and enjoy!

                  Kew Gardens is one of my favourite places to spend a day, especially in summer when we can take a picnic, spread out on the grass by the lake and just enjoy the relative peace and tranquility of it all (I say relative because it's on the flight path so you do get some noise from the planes passing overhead). We go every couple of months, sometimes more often, as we are 'Premier Friends' and so can get in for free.

                  Getting there
                  Kew Gardens is located just south of the River Thames in Kew, south-west London. It is accessible by tube (District Line), national rail or bus and it is also possible to park for free on the surrounding streets from 12pm each day. There are two main entrances - the Victoria Gate which is nearest to the station and the Main Gate which is near Kew Bridge.

                  Opening Times and Prices
                  Kew Gardens is open from 9.30am to 5.30pm each day, with extended hours from the end of March. It costs £13 for adults and is free for children under 17 when accompanied by an adult. The concession price is £12.

                  The Gardens
                  Kew Gardens is a beautiful place which appears different every time we go there due to the changing seasons. At the moment, the theme is 'Tropical Extravaganza' (until 8th March), the highlight of which is a spectacular display of orchids and other tropical blooms in the Princess of Wales Conservatory - definitely worth seeing! There are three other main greenhouses - I love the Palm House with its lovely setting in front of the lake, and the vast canopy of palm trees and rainforest plants inside. The Temperate House is also worth a visit and the Evolution House is very interesting as it tells the story of how our world evolved - my 2 year old is convinced that the dinosaurs live in there! You can also visit Kew Palace for an additional charge - I have never done that as it's not really practical with a buggy - but I have heard good reviews of it. You can also ride on the Kew Explorer which runs round the gardens, or join one of the many guided walks.

                  Some of my other favourites parts of Kew are;
                  The Lake and particularly the bridge across it - we love looking for the nests and seeing all the ducklings and cygnets in Spring
                  The Japanese garden near the pagoda - this is a spot of real tranquility and it is a beautiful place to just sit and daydream
                  The Treetop Walk - this was new last year and gives you a completely different perspective of the gardens from way up high.
                  The Rock Garden near the Princess of Wales conservatory - this is still relatively new and it's been great watching it change every time we go as the plants become more established
                  The azaleas and rhododendrons in late spring - these are really beautiful.

                  Facilities for Children
                  As a mum to a 2 year old, this is obviously important for me (feel free to skip this bit if you haven't got kids though). My son loves Climbers and Creepers which is an indoor play area designed to teach children all about the natural world - it has giant fly catchers, slides, interactive exhibits and is really well thought out. There is also an excellent shop next to it with a wide range of nature-themed children's products. There are children's lunchbox meals at all the eating places at Kew (although you might be as well to take your own picnic) and a good amount of baby-changing facilities. I think the best bit for children is just the chance to run around in a safe environment and enjoy being outside in the fresh air.

                  Facilities
                  There are four cafe / restaurants at Kew. The one at the Victoria Gate is mostly tea, coffee and cake and is always really busy - the cakes are lovely though! The Orangery and Pavillion Restaurants have a selection of hot and cold food - the Pavillion tends to be quieter as it is a bit off the beaten track. White Peaks near Climbers and Creepers tends to be full of families and does chargrilled food and jacket potatoes. There are shops at Victoria Gate (gift shop and garden centre) and a shop at White Peaks (Kids and Gifts). Both shops have some lovely things and are well worth a visit.

                  In summary, I love Kew Gardens. It is a great day out for the family and we always enjoy it there. I like that fact that it is constantly evolving so you always see something new - whether it's catching sight of a peacock wandering round the lawns, a new family of chicks on the lake or a gorgeous flower that you've never noticed before - no visit is exactly the same.

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                    16.02.2009 18:11
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                    World heritage site for a reason, a fascinating garden

                    I am just back from a trip to Kew Gardens, not my first by a long shot, but each and every time I go I find something new to see. I have been visiting Kew for over ten years now. I used to live nearby and visit on nearly a weekly basis but now that I live farther away I still like to pop back to this little oasis of green in South West London, which has more to offer than you might imagine. It is more than just a garden and there are a wealth of things to see and do.

                    Kew Gardens is celebrating 250 years of existence in 2009. Its history is long and chequered and started with Princess Augusta employing one William Chambers to develop the gardens. Today, as of 2003, Kew has been given World Heritage Site status, and has a conservation and research into plants role, but more than this the 300 acres are a great place to visit. Full details can be found on the official website; www.kew.org, but here I will aim to share my experience and give some tips of what to see and how to make the most of your day at kew.

                    Getting there:

                    Access from Richmond station is by the 391 or by the 65 from Ealing, or the gardens are probably a good 15-20 minute walk. The tube at Kew Gardens is a short stroll away. If you come by car and are not too nervous driving around London access is an easy 5 minutes from the M4 junction 2. If you do this I would advise you to arrive at 10am if you can to ensure you find a parking place easily, at this time you can park risk-free and for no charge on Kew road right next to the gardens, whatever you do make sure you park in the area allowed, I have seen rows of cars with penalty tickets on them on a Bank Holiday. The locals will tell you that the wardens are merciless, the locals are also the ones parked about 2cm maximum from the curb for the same reason - make sure you do the same.

                    Admission:

                    Many people will tell you that they remember the days when entrance was 1p. These days children are free, adults are £13 but you can often get 2 for 1 deals through South West trains, or I got a 20 percent discount by printing off a coupon from www.discountbritain.net. There are also "friends of kew" deals where you join for a year and get free tickets to take friends in too, if you are a local it is very worthwhile and helps support the gardens too. If you are going to make a day of it I think Kew is very good value for money, a non rainy day is best to visit but there is still plenty to do whatever the weather.

                    What to visit:

                    There is so much to do! The gardens are 300 acres large. You can happily just wander around with a picnic and look at the varied landscape gardening of Japanese gardens, rose gardens and many more too numerous to mention. There are no cars bar the garden staff (though bizarrely I did see John Craven being driven around with a film crew today), so it is relaxing though the peace is quite often shattered by the flight path which goes over the gardens - you can read the company names on the plane with ease!
                    If you haven't been for a long time you might think you know what there is to see - most people have heard of the famous glass houses which are definately a must on a visit, but Kew has added more jewels to its crown even in the time I have been going. The "Rhizotron and Xstrata Walkway" is a thrilling 18 metres climb onto a walkway in the tree tops that is bound to thrill (lift available for those not able to manage the steps). We couldn't visit the Rhizotron (where I believe you can see the roots of some trees) as a rather assertive peacock was guarding the entrance today, but we will go back to see this too.
                    There are various exhibitions to see as well, from paintings to interactive displays of what plants do, a pagoda to climb, a trip through the history of plants in the Evolution House, and much much more.
                    The leaflet that you are given on entering the gardens is very clear and gives you some indication of the highlights. They suggest you visit the aquatic displays if you have children in the Palm House and the Princess of Wales conservatory, I would agree this but say that the "Climbers and Creepers" which is meant to be "an interactive indoor play area" is the one disappointment in what is otherwise an excellent attration. It has been rather ill conceived; too babyish for older children, too dangerous for littlies, a guide did tell me today that it is being rejigged, I hope so.

                    Eating and drinking:

                    There are a number of different eateries around the gardens. These sell good quality items but at the kind of prices that South Londoners probably don't flinch at, but the rest of us might find a little expensive. I find taking a picnic works well, and supplementing it with a nice coffee or icecream.

                    Shops:

                    There are a number of gift shops, one aimed at children next to Creepers and Climbers and various other ones stocking plant connected items from pots to books to food. These are all rather good and prices are reasonable.

                    Special events:
                    Kew certainly has upped its game in this area. There are so many different events, some one offs and some annual. For the past few years there has been skating at Christmas and a petting farm visit at Easter, seeing the bluebells is a must. The annual orchid festival seems to have been renamed a "tropical extravaganza" and features beautiful Orchid displays. There are concerts in the Summer and the countryside fair is also a lovely event, as is the pumpkin festival. It is well worth checking what is on before you go. Kew has dared to be innovating in the exhibits that visit, in the time I have been going a Chihuly glass sculpture throughout the gardens caused much comment and was rather beautiful, there have also been African sculptures and I am sure many interesting things planned for the 250th year.

                    Overall:

                    Kew is a different visit every time I go. It varies so much with the seasons and events that are on. I have been in heatwaves where I have sat under one tree for the duration, I have spent entire days there with young children and relished the lack of cars and availibility of baby change areas and watched the world go by. I think Kew is a part of our British heritage that we should be proud of; its essence has been preserved whilst it also has embraced the 21st century in full.

                    Kew is a place for all people for all seasons - if you haven't been, what are you waiting for?!

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