Most people associate the world’s most famous botanic gardens with large glasshouses and its iconic pagoda which can be seen by passengers flying in and out of Heathrow Airport a few miles to the west. Kew does indeed have many glasshouses, in which grow thousands of rare and exotic species but it also has plenty of parks and gardens spread across its 300 acres, making it a great place to gather for a picnic and a day out.
One of Kew’s top attractions is the Palm House, a vast and curvaceous Victorian iron and glass structure designed to create a tropical environment for palms from all over the southern hemisphere. The South Wing contains plants from Africa and the Indian Ocean islands, including a rare triangle palm (Dypsis decaryi) from Madagascar. The central section houses plants from the Americas, including many economically important species such as cocoa, rubber, banana and papaya. The North Wing showcases Asian plants such as mango, starfruit, breadfruit and jackfruit trees.
Even bigger is The Temperate House, the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world, covering 4,880 square metres and extending to 19 metres high. The South Wing and Octagon are home to African plants, the main rectangular hall hosts sub-tropical trees and palms, while the North Wing and Octagon contain temperate plants from Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the Pacific. A boiler in the nearby Stable Yard helps keep the temperature to a minimum 10°C all year round.
For a bird’s-eye view of Kew, you can climb 18 metres into the tree canopy for a stroll along the 200-metre Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway, designed by the firm of architects that brought us the London Eye.