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"In gardens, beauty is a by-product.The main business is sex and death." Sam Llewelyn
Kew Gardens (London)
Member Name: tongueoftruth
Kew Gardens (London)
Date: 16/06/10, updated on 09/07/13 (119 review reads)
Advantages: Excellent value on 2-4-1, lots to do and see for all ages.
Disadvantages: Food limited in range and just that little bit too overpriced. Best in good weather.
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...
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.
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!
Summary: A terrific day out for horticulturalists, families, couples and anyone wanting to chill!
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