Kew Gardens: a marathon, not a sprint
It turned out to be a bigger task than first anticipated.
As we walked over Kew Bridge, moving from Brentford to leafy Surrey, we thought: a family day out at Kew Gardens. Lovely. How difficult could it be?
But when we barely crawled out six hours later, we realised just how huge this venerable botanical garden was.
And there were still some areas we hadn’t explored.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which are celebrating their 250th anniversary this year, are massive: 326 acres to be precise – that’s the equivalent of 150 football pitches. It’s no wonder we didn’t quite get round to seeing everything.
The statistics, too, are mind-boggling. There are 30,000 different species of plants to see (the largest living plant collection in the world), as well as 14,000 trees, including seven (known as old Lions), that date from 1762 when Princess Augusta first created the botanical garden.
Judging by our aching feet and legs, we saw quite a few of them. But there were still a few tantalising corners that remained unexplored, including the Wildlife Observation Centre and stag beetle logger.
Normally, I would not dream of recommending a day out to a botanical garden if you have small children in tow: once they’ve seen a few trees and walked through a couple of hot houses, they have had enough.
But Kew is different. There are plenty of activities to keep younger people amused while their parents take note of the varieties of plant species.
Climbers and Creepers, an indoor play area with a horticultural theme, is a good little bolthole for when you need to have a sit down and let your young charges let off some steam. A play area is being redeveloped and should open this and there are plenty of interactive boards for the children dotted about for them to read.
While not specifically for children, mine loved the latest addition to the gardens, the innovative Xstrata Treetop Walkway, was inspired by the Fibonacci sequence.
Standing at 18 metres high and 200 metres long, the walkway gives you a bird’s eye view of the gardens and some fabulous distant views – including Wembley Stadium – of London landmarks.
This summer is an ideal time to visit the gardens as it celebrates its 250th year as a world leader in conservation and horticulture.
There is a fascinating exhibition detailing the work that its 200 scientists are carrying out with 800 partner organisations in more than 100 countries to conserve seeds of rare plants. Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank has more than 1.5 billion seeds from ten per cent of the world’s wild flowering plant species.
Kew is also working with Albrighton’s David Austin Roses to re-plant the rose garden behind the Palm House, which dates back to 1848, to its original footprint by William Nesfield.
The new rose garden will feature ‘Rosa’ Kew Gardens, a celebratory rose – thornless with a profusion of white and yellow flowers – for Kew’s anniversary.
There were no roses where we were staying at Holiday Inn, Brentford Lock, a 40-minute walk from Kew (or ten minutes on the bus, we discovered on our return), but a nice enough view from the revamped canal basin where ducks swam and cormorants swooped.
While it may not be the most obvious place to stay in London, the four star hotel, which specialises in Asian cuisine, is just five miles from Heathrow Airport and a rugby ball’s throw from Twickenham.
A sparkling new building at the end of the dull Brentford High Street, it offers a standard of accommodation you expect from a chain. The bar and cocktail lounge would not be out of place in any trendy city and the restaurant serves decent food, albeit not a vast choice and there is a good children’s selection.
The rooms were spacious and comfortable and there was a menu for guests to choose their perfect pillow. Not that we needed it. After all that walking, we slept like logs…
Jayne Howarth and family were guests of Holiday Inn, Brentford Lock, which is offering a Kew Gardens package to mark the 250th anniversary of the botanical gardens. Standard rooms cost from £72, including VAT and breakfast and a ticket to Kew, while the standard doubles are from £85 and include two tickets. Parking costs £10 per day. For details, visit http://www.holidayinnbrentford.co.uk or telephone 020 8232 2000.
Kew Gardens is open Monday-Friday 9.30am-5.30pm and weekends from 9.30am-7.30pm. Glasshouses, galleries and walkway close earlier. If not staying at the Holiday Inn, Brentford Lock, admission is £13 adults, £11 concessions and children under 17 free, if accompanied by adults.
This piece appeared in the Express and Star on July 14, 2009