Kew Garden: The Royal Botanical Gardens

Kew, Richmond upon Thames, London, UK, TW9 3AB .
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Three hundred acres of botanical delights grace Kew Gardens, which lies on the south bank of the Thames River between Richmond and Kew in the suburbs of south-west London. If you're a stickler for accuracy you might like to note that the proper way to refer to Kew is in the plural, i.e. Kew Gardens, not Kew Garden. This is due to the fact that centuries ago there were two estates here, Kew Estate and Richmond Estate. These estates were combined to [eventually] form the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The gardens are "Royal" because for many years the estates that now form the gardens were owned by members of Britain's royal family. King George II and Queen Caroline lived at Ormonde Lodge, on the Richmond estate. Their son and heir, Prince Frederick, leased the neighbouring Kew estate in the 1730s.

After Frederick's death in 1751 his widow Augusta began a small 9 acre botanic garden, calling on assistance from Lord Bute and architect William Chambers, who created several garden buildings, including the present Orangery, Pagoda, and Ruined Arch. Then in 1760 George III inheirited Richmond estate. George called in the popular garden architect Capability Brown to create a landscaped park. In 1772 King George also inheirited Kew estate when his mother died.

The Chinese Pagoda at Kew

Under George III, or more properly, under his unofficial director Joseph Banks, Kew Gardens flourished. Banks dispatched botanical collectors across the globe to gather rare, unusual, or simply interesting botanical specimens. Under Banks, Kew Gardens became a depository of the world's plant species and a centre of botanical research. After both Banks and George III died in 1820 the gardens fell into dsrepair. They languished for several years until they were handed over to the state in 1840. The royal family donated some surrounding land, bringing the total area of the gardens up to 200 acres.

In 1841 the first official director of the Botanical Gardens was named, so that year is generally regarded as the foundation of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Sir William Hooker was the man charged with running the gardens, and he was responsible for founding the Museum, the Department of Economic Botany, the Library, and the Herbarium.

The Palm House at Kew

In 1848 the Palm House was added, followed in 1860 by the Temperate House. Both of these huge greenhouses were the work of Decimus Burton. The Palm House is a wonder of glass and iron, and its design influenced that of other glass and metal structures during the Victorian period, including the Crystal Palace erected for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Further bequests of land led to the expansion of Kew, and it reached its current size of 300 acres in 1902.


The gardens today present an enjoyable mix of landscaped lawns, formal gardens, and greenhouses. Equally important, Kew functions as a botanical research centre and maintains the largest plant collection in the world. The various greenhouses display plants from across the world in climate controlled environments, while Kew Gardens Gallery houses art and photographs illustrating botanical themes. Queen Charlotte's Cottage (open only in summer) is a pretty summerhouse lying alongside a lake. The Chinese Pagoda is arguably Kew's most recognizable structure.

Also worth noting is Evolution House, a small glass building housing displays on the evolution of plant life on earth. The Grass Garden has over 600 varieties of grasses, and the Wood Museum explains the manufacture of paper and shows examples of inlaid wood cabinetry. Kew remains one of the world's premier public gardens

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