Mission statement of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: To enable better management of the Earth's environment by increasing knowledge and understanding of the plant and fungal kingdoms - the basis of life on earth.

The full name of Kew Gardens is in fact The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew but few people know it by this full name.

The Botanic Gardens at Kew were founded in the 18th century by King George III's mother, Princess Augusta. The gardens cover 300 acres (120 hectares) and consist of many buildings and landscaped areas - there is too much there to cover in a single day, so it's best to obtain a site map (or download it from http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/visitor/KewMap.html) and choose your route carefully. There are 4 main gates into the park and it backs onto the River Thames. It is accessible by road, rail, riverboat or The London Underground.

The Gardens

The living plant collection at Kew and Wakehurst Place reflect global plant diversity and provide a reference source which serves all aspects of botanical and horticultural science within our organisation. It is probably the largest and most diverse living collection in the world: the variety of conditions available at the two sites allows the development of two differing but complementary collections.
There are so many beautiful walks and buildings in the park that it would take far too long to describe them all here, so I will focus mainly on the glasshouses; in addition to these there are museums, galleries, a magnificent library (entry by appointment only) containing one of the world's largest collections of botanical material, and purely ornamental architectural structures.

  • The Temperate House, built in stages between 1862 and 1899, was also designed by Decimus Burton. It is the largest ornamental glasshouse in the world and houses both common and endangered species from sub-tropical regions all over the world. The house is divided into geographical regions where you can wander round citrus trees, tea plants and the world's largest indoor plant, the Chilean wine-palm.
  • The current Alpine House is a modern, pyramid shaped (to echo the mountains) building first opened in 1981, (the original one was built in 1887). It houses more plants than any of the other glasshouses and the displays are changed twice weekly so the plants are only seen at their best. The rest of the time the plants are grown under forced conditions which mimic the conditions they would experience in the wild.
  • In The Evolution House the visitor walks though a time-line of plants (and sounds) which were known to be present at various stages in the life history of Earth. These include species of liverworts, mosses and ferns.
  • The Princess of Wales Conservatory was built in honour of Princess Augusta, the founder of the gardens, and opened in 1987 by Diana, Princess of Wales. It features 10 climatic zones under one roof - from wet and dry tropics to temperate regions and cloud forests. There is a display of carnivorous plants and also some animals to illustrate the importance of the interactions between fauna and flora.
  • The Waterlily House is quite an experience. It is the hottest and most humid of the glasshouses at Kew and contains not only species of waterlily, but also rice, lemongrass and some ornamental plants. From my visit there I remember being awe-struck by the size of the leaves of the giant waterlily Victoria cruziana, some of these being many feet across, and by the perfection of the flowers.
  • Restaurants and Tea Rooms. Fortunately for the wearly visitor there are 4 'eateries' in the park. The Orangerie will be closed until summer 2002 however, but refreshments can still be obtained from White Peaks, the Pavillion Restaurant and the Victoria Gate Coffee Shop.
  • The Business

    The Royal Botanic Gardens is more than just a nice park to walk around, it is in fact a major business organisation consisting of 10 departments. These include the ubiquitous Marketing Department, Human Resources, Finance, and Buildings & Maintenance as well as several scientific departments dedicated to the different aspects of botany and horticulture:

    The importance of education is deeply seated in the culture of The Royal Botanic Gardens. The main objectives of the education department are:

    • To share knowledge effectively on as wide a front as possible.
    • To establish the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew as a world leader in the interpretation and teaching of systematic botany, conservation, biodiversity assessment and management, herbarium and botanic garden management, economic botany, and horticulture.
    • To assist actively in capacity-building in biodiversity and related sciences.
    • To network effectively with leading universities, colleges, schools and other botanical/horticultural institutions to develop relevant plant science education.
    This is achieved by providing higher education and accredited training courses, education packages for teachers and schools, lectures, guided tours and special events for the public and by giving access both online and offline to a huge pool of resources.

    http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/

    I was here today, along with about one third of the population of London. We were all there for one thing, a gigantic deformed penis with a stench of rotting corpse.

    Where is the greatest biological diversity on the planet Earth? Madagascar? New Guinea? Probably not. It's probably here, in this pleasant and unassuming corner of south-west London. The Royal Botanical Gardens claim some completely unbelievably impossible figure like one-fifth of all plants. Someone challenged me on this when I told them, and I agreed, it sounds absurd. Then I considered the Order Beds.

    At the Kew Gardens they have, in one small corner, these things called the Order Beds. They are beds containing every plant species they can manage to grow in the open air, arranged by order. They just go on and on and on. A little later I came across a reference work that gave numbers: yea many species in order Compositae, and so on and so forth. I strode over those beds, in my head, I added them up, how many I'd seen, and decided, yes, it was just possible they did have one-fifth of the world's flowering plants.

    Today we went to see the titan arum, Latin name Amorphophallus titanum. This is probably the most stunning plant anyone will ever see. It's dominated by a single giant yellow inflorescence, a "spadix", that grows upward at almost a centimetre an hour, for the few days when it's active. It hits 3 m high, it's a native of the Sumatra rainforest, and to attract pollinators it stinks to high heaven, like rotting corpse and eggs and... but only for a few days. I queued up today to see and smell it, and though it's still huge, it's starting to close up, and there was no great smell left. Drat!

    That's what Kew does so well: the preservation of rare plants. The cultivation of plants that barely survive in their native habitat. They're trying to restore plants that have virtually disappeared from their native Mauritius, Nepal, or whatever.

    There are some trees dating back to its foundation in the mid 1700s. For the most part they're showing their age, very bulbous and bowed, propped up by metal bars, unwell. But a huge summer-house covered in ancient wisteria is breathtakingly beautiful.

    It's an immense park. You can wander it for ages just enjoying the scenery. They are big gardens full of azaleas. There are woodlands with different species of pine, cedar, oak... There's an ornamental pagoda. There are these greenhouses where you learn about the world's plants.

    In passing, I saw a family of baby ducklings. I saw piranhas, covered in what looked like gold dust. I saw stingrays, living coral, clown fish, mangrove roots, golden pheasants ...

    At one point I looked at a map in the grounds to see what we'd missed. As with last time I was there, I found we'd seen only one little quarter. It's one of these places Britain has (others are the British Museum and National Gallery and Victoria and Albert Museum) where it's completely impossible to cover any significant proportion of it in a single day.

    So I'm glad this time I bought an annual ticket. If we're anywhere near it, Kew should be part of our lives. The River Thames nearby is beautiful too. The Gardens were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2003.

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