19 July 2021

A Kew Gardens Photo Walk

As the temperature nudged close to 30C in London on Saturday, I headed west for a long-overdue return to the Kew Gardens. I'd booked my ticket online earlier in the week and then wondered if the heat was going to affect my visit but actually, spending a few hours walking the shaded paths around the verdant gardens and exploring some of the exhibitions was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

From Waterloo, it's a 15-minute train ride to Richmond, and then a 15-minute walk to the Lion Gate of Kew Gardens. There was a short queue to get in — you have to book a 45-minute entry slot in advance — but I was inside before too long. I'd stocked up at Whole Foods and enjoyed my small picnic on a quiet spot of grass. Although there were a lot of visitors, Kew is huge so it's easy to find a lawn of one's own. Founded in 1840, the gardens have plenty of different areas to explore, and you could easily spend the day there if the weather's nice.

My first stop was the Marianne North Gallery to visit two different exhibitions. One is part of the permanent collection from the titular Victorian biologist and botanical artist. Every wall of the small gallery is lined with North's illustrations, featuring plants from around the world. I even spotted a coffee plant.

Next door was an exhibition I was particularly keen to see, Naturally Brilliant Colour. The stunningly bright colours in the featured works feature bio-inspired micro-structures in their surface layers, just like hummingbirds and butterfly wings. Most of the works look much better in person (the exhibition runs until late September), but I particularly liked the polia berries and the glass ball showing structural colour in early marine organisms.

The Palm House was next on my list. There was a small queue outside the tropical glasshouse to allow staff to manage physical distancing measures, and yes, it was a little warm inside, but I loved the light and the shades of green and shapes of the varied plants.

Across the way is Waterlily House — its small size means only a few people can go in at once, so there was about a 10- or 15-minute wait. But there were still plenty of opportunities to capture the gorgeous lilies in the pond.

Afterwards, I walked over to the Princess of Wales Conservatory, where you can journey from the desert (all the cacti and succulents made me miss Mexico) to the tropics, with some orchids and many other beautiful flowers.

On the way to my final glasshouse, I stopped off at the Hive, a 17-metre-tall metal beehive, where lights and sounds respond to the bees inside. The Temperate House had the longest wait of all and wasn't my favourite, but I still managed to find some lovely flowers to photograph; yes, most of them were pink.

In need of cooling down, I found another shady spot to sit down with my book and a big glass of cold water, before returning back to the Lion Gate via the Pinetum and the Great Pagoda, which dates back to 1762. And now that I've reminded myself of how great Kew is, I really must return again at Christmas, where they put on quite a show after sunset.

Kew Gardens. Kew, Richmond, London, TW9 3AE (transportation). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

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