How can that be? Christmas in July?
A couple of days ago, Steph and I had a day out at Kew Gardens, followed by a lovely afternoon tea (with all the works: sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, pastries, cake) at a ‘nearby’ hotel in Richmond (the Richmond Gate).
But why ‘Christmas in July’? That’s because Hannah and Michael, Philippa and Andi had given us a Virgin Experience Days Gift Pack for Christmas, with vouchers for Kew and afternoon tea. And we only got around to using them this week.
Not only had we been waiting for the most appropriate and convenient date to travel to London, but we had been keeping an eye on the weather. And as it turned out, the weather could hardly have been better on Wednesday: broken cloud, and warm and sunny (even hot at times) all day.
Getting to London
Once we’d settled on a date, then we had to decide how to travel to London. Of course we could have ‘let the train take the strain’. But as Kew is quite a distance west from central London (the terminus for several train companies from here in the Midlands), the Kew Underground station is not so close to the gardens, and the ‘nearby’ hotel was three miles from Kew, public transport looked inconvenient – and expensive.
So I decided to drive, not something I was looking forward to. The drive down the M40 and M4 was only about 110 miles, but leaving at around 8 am as we did, I was worried about traffic congestion at various points in the journey (especially closer to London), and of course the major question: where to park?
Kew Gardens does not offer much parking, and there are restrictions on all the streets nearby, except Kew Road (which quickly fills up, apparently) but only after 10 am. Searching the Internet last weekend, I came across a site I’d never encountered before: JustPark (rebranded from ParkatmyHouse.com), through which homeowners offer parking spaces at their homes, for a fee. An excellent idea. It’s just like making a hotel reservation. You just choose where you’d like to park (all interactive on Google maps), check whether it’s available, pay the fee, and Bob’s your uncle. We found a space just five minutes walk from Kew’s main entrance, the Elizabeth Gate, off Kew Green. It couldn’t have been better. And it was also on the South Circular A205 that we had to take to reach our afternoon tea destination.
We set off just a few minutes after 8 am, and I parked the car at Kew just after 10. Remarkable. Then we headed off to the Gardens, and spent the next 5½ hours walking a little over 8 miles around Kew.
There wasn’t much that we missed. Many of the main attractions (the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the Davies Alpine House, Rock Garden, the Duke’s Garden, and the Palm and Waterlily Houses are located at the northeast end of the Gardens. It’s almost a 2 mile walk from the Elizabeth Gate to the Pagoda at the far southern end, but we didn’t get that far.
Click on the map below to open a PDF file.
After lunch we set out southwards, however, to find the lake and its relatively new Sackler Crossing, and the Xstrata Treetop Walkway, heading back to the Palm House via the Mediterranean Garden, and a brief stop to look inside the empty Temperate House. This is a huge building, first opened in 1899 but now closed for refurbishment, at a cost of £35 million, until 2018. It was fascinating to see the labyrinth of steel girders that make up the skeleton of this impressive glasshouse. Those Victorians certainly knew how to build on an epic scale. but in the open park there are hundreds of the most magnificent mature trees from all over the world.
You have to marvel at the construction and design of the various glasshouses. The Davies Alpine House is truly an architectural statement in its landscape.
The Princess of Wales Conservatory showcases 10 environments under a ‘single’ roof, and the plants are elegantly displayed.
While are very familiar with rainforest vegetation from the years we lived in Costa Rica and the Philippines, it’s good to see many of these species displayed in the Palm House.
And while many of the economically important cereals were planted in the Grass Garden, there was no rice of course. But we finally tracked it down in two corners of the very hot and humid Waterlily House.
The Rock Garden and the Plant Family beds are separated by a wall and a 150 m path, along which the flower beds are planted exclusively with Salvia species, a lovely sight.
The Sackler Crossing over the lake is a relatively new feature at Kew, and is a beautiful addition to the Gardens, curving as it does from one bank to the other.
The Xstrata Treetop Walkway takes you almost above the canopy of the surrounding trees, 18 m above ground. After walking for more than 4 hours, and beginning to feel a little jaded, we opted for the lift to carry us to the top. And what a great view we had from there, although it was a little unnerving to feel the Walkway rock – ever so slightly – from side-to-side.
The Waterlily House is small but contains some beautiful examples of Nymphaea and the giant Victoria cruziana at their best at this time of the year.
Most of the plants are labelled, but it was frustrating not to find one on some plants that we particularly wanted to identify – especially the variety name. Also, Kew has a Plantasia event, with plants all around the Gardens highlighting the life enhancing power of plants – many from Asia used in folk medicines.
Finally, we headed to Kew Palace, once the country retreat of King George III and his family in the 18th century, with its beautiful Queen’s Garden and a sunken herb garden. Exquisite! Of course it’s no longer ‘the country’, but I have to say when walking through the verdant parkland of Kew you can just imagine a world more than two centuries ago, and were it not for the incessant drone of jets landing (almost every minute) at Heathrow (Kew lies directly under the flight-path when aircraft are landing from the east) you wouldn’t know you were just a few miles from the centre of London.
Time for tea
By 3:30 pm, my ‘dogs were barking’ – that’s to say, my feet were sore. So we headed back to the car and drove the three miles to the Richmond Gate for the other part of our Christmas treat.
After three cups of tea, several finger sandwiches (salmon, ham, egg, all with the requisite cucumber), scones with jam and cream, profiteroles, and Madeira cake, I was a much happier bunny. We were on our way home by about 4:45 pm, and although we encountered traffic congestion approaching the M4 and getting on to the M25 north, it was the open road once we hit the M40 north, and we were home, tired but contented after a great day out, just after 7:15 pm.
Thank you Hannah and Michael, Philippa and Andi for such a lovely treat!