Kew Gardens, London

Monday, 3 July 2017

Despite the District line being 'my line' for all the years I've lived in London, I've been pretty contained to East London in that time, barring my regular visits to the museum quarter in South Kensington. I'd made a single venture to Acton Town to see the London Transport Museum's Depot, but that was as far as I'd got. Kew Gardens was always on 'the list', but it's a full two hours from where I live now and therefore relegated to the 'special occasion' list. Conveniently, it was recently Ainsley's birthday and so we took ourselves down for the day.

For some reason I hadn't realised quite how huge Kew is: we had a few hours to kill, but it was nowhere near enough time to take everything in properly. We started off with a pretty decent picnic on the lawn in front of Kew Palace, fending off a pair of ducks keen for our sandwiches, and then headed in for a look at the rooms. We admired the second floor's pastel pink paintwork, and some of the grander restored rooms, but the attic was my favourite part of the house despite being largely empty. We caught the formal gardens behind the Palace just in time; the much-photographed yellow laburnum arch was still just about in full bloom, buzzing with bees and giving off an amazing scent. The Royal Kitchens were surprising - the double height space is unexpectedly vast, and still holds the original wooden table from 1737 and giant fireplace with spits for roasting meats. It's lovely seeing the kitchen garden in full use, growing common eighteenth century plants (I spotted some redcurrants, and my favourite, rhubarb.)

From the kitchens, we made a loop round to the Rhododendron Dell, which was finishing flowering but still beautiful - it includes many varieties which I've never seen before (and my nan is quite a rhododendron buff). We sat at the lake for a while, eating the vegan Victoria sponge cake I made and promptly smashed by accident, Eton mess-style, keeping an eye out for ducklings. The giant Temperate House, the largest surviving Victorian greenhouse, is currently closed until 2018 for renovation, so we had a look at it through the gaps in the trees from the Treetop Walkway sitting sixty feet into the canopy. 

The final part of the day we spent in the glasshouses: everyone's favourites, the giant Palm House and humid Waterlily House, were first up. We were seriously overdressed for the occasion, but it was just as magical as it looks on Instagram. Fun fact: the water in the Waterlily House is coloured with eco-friendly black dye to prevent algae growth, which is why it's so reflective! After that, we managed to cram in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, filled with cacti and carnivorous plants, as well as the little sail-shaped Davies Alpine House and rock gardens. At this point, we were pretty much being herded out, but The Hive was still open. If you catch the installation at a quiet moment (or aren't afraid of embarrassment or being trodden on), lie down on the floor underneath the opening in the top and spend a few minutes really listening to the sounds and lights. The sounds and lights are linked to the activity of real bees in Kew's hive, and it's a really lovely experience. I'm itching to go and see it at night (as well as catch up with the rest of the Kew attractions that we didn't have time for!)

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