Did you plan on visiting Kew Gardens this year but couldn’t make it? You’re not alone. London’s historical garden is a feast for the eyes and just because you can’t visit in person doesn’t mean you can’t experience Kew Gardens virtually. Of course, nothing can truly replace roaming around the garden’s beautiful fauna and letting the scent of flowers surround you, but we have a plan B!
We invited Bernard Patry, who’s been working on-site for a year and a half, to give you an online tour of Kew Gardens. If this doesn’t make you want to visit one day, we don’t know what will.
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Kew Gardens video: A virtual tour
Meet your Kew Gardens insider
What do you do at Kew Gardens, and what do you love most about your role?
I’m Kew’s Travel Trade Sales & Marketing Manager. I work with our fantastic partners across the tourism industry to help inspire visitors from all over the world to pay a visit to our beautiful gardens.
I love that I get to represent such a unique and incredible attraction and I’m fascinated by history. I also love the outdoors – so for me, Kew’s combination of heritage and horticulture really is unbeatable. Working on-site makes for some great lunchtime walks too!
The secret to the gardens’ upkeep
Visiting Kew Gardens is like stepping into an emerald wonderland, but all that plant magic doesn’t happen by itself. How are they so meticulously kept?
We have a large team of expert horticulturists who look after the plants and trees across the gardens. Each area is looked after by a different team and their work can vary enormously! For example, the Tree Gang looks after Kew’s 14,000 trees to make sure they are healthy and well maintained, while the Palm House team specializes in caring for tropical plants in Kew’s iconic glasshouse (more on that soon).
All year round, our teams are planting, pruning, weeding, mowing, hand-pollinating, designing displays, and growing new plants to be placed out in the gardens. The work never stops for Kew’s horticulturists.
What to see at Kew: Highlights and hidden gems
We recognize the famous Palm House as seen in Kew Gardens video above, but you’ve mentioned there are a few other special places in the gardens. What would your highlight reel look like?
There’s the Temperate House, popular for its gorgeous architecture and plant collection. Check out the iconic Palm House to discover the rainforest, pop into Kew Palace and the Great Pagoda to learn the gardens’ royal history, and most definitely visit the Great Broad Walk Borders for the stunning colors spanning from spring to autumn.
Tell us more about the Palm House and the Temperate House.
Aside from being an incredibly beautiful building, the Palm House is also our oldest glasshouse, dating from 1844. It was the first glasshouse to be constructed on this scale and the architects used techniques from the shipbuilding industry to achieve their vision, which may explain the building’s unique shape.
It is also a great pleasure to just step inside and be instantly transported to the depths of the rainforest, getting lost in the warmth and lush vegetation. Many of the plants in the Palm House collection are endangered or even extinct in the wild, while others you may recognize as the source of some familiar day-to-day products, such as the cocoa tree. I think it’s a great place to learn and to reflect on our relationship with the natural world.
The Temperate House is my favorite thing to show first-time visitors when they tour Kew Gardens. It recently reopened in 2018 following a five-year restoration project and just looks spectacular inside and out. We often liken it to a cathedral of glass because of the scale and elegance of the structure. I love to visit on a clear sunny day as light pours in from all angles and illuminates the framework of the building above and the plants below. My ultimate tip? Climb up the spiral staircases for incredible views and pictures!
There are some hidden gems in the Kew Garden video above, but what things do you wish people would stop and appreciate more?
Without a doubt, this would be the Marianne North Gallery. It is such a charming, intimate art gallery with over 800 paintings of plants from around the world, all created by a remarkable Victorian artist called Marianne North.
As soon as you walk in, you’re greeted by joyous wall-to-wall color. Once you recover from the initial overload of color, you’ll notice the artworks in more detail, which follow North’s intrepid travels across the globe. I would encourage everyone to make this a part of their – both for the art itself and for the story of the pioneering painter behind it all.
We know tour guides have great stories to tell when they take visitors around Kew Gardens, but what would be your favorite anecdote?
Kew has many great stories, particularly ones which stem from its royal history. My favorite is that we used to have kangaroos grazing in the gardens! George III and Queen Charlotte kept a menagerie of exotic animals in a large paddock to the rear of Queen Charlotte’s Cottage. The first kangaroos to set foot in England were kept here and were successfully bred until there were 18 of them stomping the grounds by the early 19th century.
The kangaroos may have long since left Kew, but we do still have a team of Chinese water dragons that live inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory and help our horticultural team with pest control. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of one basking in the sunshine during your visit.
What we saw in the Kew Gardens video is just a snippet of what’s on offer; so what you would personally recommend for first-time visitors?
Firstly, I’d recommend taking one of our free guided tours. These take place daily and give a fascinating introduction to the gardens – great for those who would like to know more about Kew’s history, horticulture, and contemporary research and conservation work.
Otherwise, make sure to pick up a welcome leaflet at the entrance gate! These leaflets provide information on the gardens’ seasonal highlights, helping you to get the most out of your visit, no matter the time of year.
Bernard’s recommendations of things to see at Kew Gardens:
1. For the quick and ambitious:
Hit the highlights! Starting at Victoria Gate near the main entrance, it’s a short walk to the Palm House. From there you can head down to Kew Palace taking in the Princess of Wales Conservatory and the Great Broad Walk Borders. Check out our fantastic, immersive art installation, The Hive, on the way.
For a small supplement, you can also take a seat on the Kew Explorer land train which completes a circuit of the gardens. It includes guided commentary and you can see everything in less than an hour.
2. For families:
Our fabulous new Children’s Garden is perfect for families with children up to the age of 12. It provides a fun, interactive space to climb, run, jump, and explore everything that a plant needs to grow. Elsewhere, kids can tackle the Log Trail and explore the giant Badger Sett in Kew’s beautiful Natural Area. Don’t forget that Kew is also the perfect place for a family picnic when the sun is shining!
3. For art aficionados and history buffs
We have two galleries at Kew for art lovers to enjoy. There’s the Marianne North Gallery as I mentioned earlier and the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art – a more modern gallery that offers a rolling program of varied exhibitions. It’s also worth checking out The Hive – an immersive, contemporary sculpture designed to highlight the life of the honeybee. It towers 17 meters above the Broad Walk. If you love royal history, don’t skip the Kew Palace itself or the Great Pagoda, Kew’s homage to Asian architecture that was built in 1762.