Kew Gardens is the world's largest collection of living plants. Kew, the area in which Kew Gardens are situated, consists mainly of the gardens themselves and a small surrounding community. Royal residences in the area which would later influence the layout and construction of the gardens began in 1299 when Edward I moved his court to a manor house in neighbouring Richmond (then called Sheen). That manor house was later abandoned; however, Henry V built Sheen Palace in 1501, which, under the name Richmond Palace, became a permanent royal residence for Henry VII. Around the start of the 16th century courtiers attending Richmond Palace settled in Kew and built large houses. Early royal residences at Kew included Mary Tudor's house, which was in existence by 1522 when a driveway was built to connect it to the palace at Richmond. Around 1600, the land that would become the gardens was known as Kew Field, a large field strip farmed by one of the new private estates. The exotic garden at Kew Park, formed by Lord Capel John of Tewkesbury, was enlarged and extended by Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales, the widow of Frederick, Prince of Wales. The origins of Kew Gardens can be traced to the merging of the royal estates of Richmond and Kew in 1772. William Chambers built several garden structures, including the lofty Chinese pagoda built in 1761 which still remains. George III enriched the gardens, aided by William Aiton and Sir Joseph Banks. The old Kew Park (by then renamed the White House), was demolished in 1802. The "Dutch House" adjoining was purchased by George III in 1781 as a nursery for the royal children. It is a plain brick structure now known as Kew Palace. Some early plants came from the walled garden established by William Coys at Stubbers in North Ockendon. The collections grew somewhat haphazardly until the appointment of the first collector, Francis Masson, in 1771. Capability Brown, who became England's most renowned landscape architect, applied for the position of master gardener at Kew, and was rejected.
In 1840 the gardens were adopted as a national botanical garden, in large part due to the efforts of the Royal Horticultural Society and its president William Cavendish. Under Kew's director, William Hooker, the gardens were increased to 30 hectares (75 acres) and the pleasure grounds, or arboretum, extended to 109 hectares (270 acres), and later to its present size of 121 hectares (300 acres). The first curator was John Smith. The Palm House was built by architect Decimus Burton and iron-maker Richard Turner between 1844 and 1848, and was the first large-scale structural use of wrought iron. It is considered " the world's most important surviving Victorian glass and iron structure." The structure's panes of glass are all hand-blown. The Temperate House, which is twice as large as the Palm House, followed later in the 19th century. It is now the largest Victorian glasshouse in existence. Kew was the location of the successful effort in the 19th century to propagate rubber trees for cultivation outside South America. In February 1913, the Tea House was burned down by suffragettes Olive Wharry and Lilian Lenton during a series of arson attacks in London. Kew Gardens lost hundreds of trees in the Great Storm of 1987. From 1959 to 2007 Kew Gardens had the tallest flagpole in Britain. Made from a single Douglas-fir from Canada, it was given to mark both the centenary of the Canadian Province of British Columbia and the bicentenary of Kew Gardens. The flagpole was removed after damage by weather and woodpeckers.
A new treetop walkway opened in 2008. This walkway is 18 metres (59 ft) high and 200 metres (660 ft) long and takes visitors into the tree canopy of a woodland glade. Visitors can ascend and descend by stairs or by a lift. The floor of the walkway is made from perforated metal and flexes as it is walked upon. The entire structure sways in the wind. The Sackler Crossing bridge, made of granite and bronze, opened in May 2006. Designed by Buro Happold and John Pawson, it crosses the lake and is named in honour of philanthropists Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler. The minimalist-styled bridge is designed as a sweeping double curve of black granite. The sides of the bridge are formed of bronze posts that give the impression, from certain angles, of forming a solid wall whereas from others, and to those on the bridge, they are clearly individual entities that allow a view of the water beyond. The bridge forms part of a path designed to encourage visitors to visit more of the gardens than had hitherto been popular and connects the two art galleries, via the Temperate and Evolution Houses and the woodland glade, to the Minka House and the Bamboo Garden. In the south-east corner of Kew Gardens stands the Great Pagoda (by Sir William Chambers), erected in 1762, from a design in imitation of the Chinese Ta. The lowest of the ten octagonal storeys is 15 m (49 ft) in diameter. From the base to the highest point is 50 m (164 ft). Each storey finishes with a projecting roof, after the Chinese manner, originally covered with ceramic tiles and adorned with large dragons; a story is still propagated that they were made of gold and were reputedly sold by George IV to settle his debts. In fact the dragons were made of wood painted gold, and simply rotted away with the ravages of time. The walls of the building are composed of brick. The staircase, 253 steps, is in the centre of the building. The Pagoda was closed to the public for many years, but was reopened for the summer months of 2006 and is now open permanently. During the Second World War holes were cut in each floor to allow for drop-testing of model bombs. Built for the Japan-British Exhibition (1910) and moved to Kew in 1911, the Chokushi-Mon ("Imperial Envoy's Gateway") is a four-fifths scale replica of the karamon (gateway) of the Nishi Hongan-ji temple in Kyoto. It lies about 140 m west of the Pagoda and is surrounded by a reconstruction of a traditional Japanese garden. Within the conservation area is a cottage that was given to Queen Charlotte as a wedding present on her marriage to George III. It has been restored by Historic Royal Palaces and is separately administered by them. It is open to the public on weekends and bank holidays during the summer. Tours available. The Rhizotron is fully accessible to wheelchairs and mobility scooters. You enter via a path on a gentle downwards slope with handrail, on a smooth surface. The exit path is an identical upward slope. The Treetop Walkway lift is available for disabled and mobility impaired visitors.
Location : Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB
Transport: Kew Gardens (Overground). Kew Bridge (National Rail). Kew Pier (Thames River Boats - summer only). London Buses routes 65 and 391 stop nearby.
Opening Times: Daily 10:00.
Winter to 16:50. Spring to 17:30
Summer to 18:30 (weekends 19:30). Autumn to 17:30
Tickets : Adults £15:00 Children (4 - 16) £3.50.
Concessions £14:00 Carer Free.
Tel: 020 8332 5655