Kew Gardens facts for kids
Quick facts for kidsKew Gardens
Kew Gardens Temperate House from the Pagoda
|Location||London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, England|
|Area||121 hectares (300 acres)|
|Visitors||more than 1.35 million per year|
|Public transit access||Kew Gardens|
|UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Official name||Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew|
|Criteria||Cultural: (ii), (iii), (iv)|
|Inscription||2003 (27th Session)|
|Area||132 ha (330 acres)|
|Buffer zone||350 ha (860 acres)|
Kew Gardens is a botanical garden in southwest London that houses the "largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world". Founded in 1840, from the exotic garden at Kew Park in Middlesex, England, its living collections include more than 30,000 different kinds of plants, while the herbarium, which is one of the largest in the world, has over seven million preserved plant specimens. The library contains more than 750,000 volumes, and the illustrations collection contains more than 175,000 prints and drawings of plants. It is one of London's top tourist attractions and is a World Heritage Site.
Kew Gardens, together with the botanic gardens at Wakehurst Place in Sussex, are managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, an internationally important botanical research and education institution that employs 750 staff and is sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The Kew site has been dated as formally starting in 1759, consists of 132 hectares (330 acres) of gardens and botanical glasshouses, four Grade I listed buildings, and 36 Grade II listed structures, all set in an internationally significant landscape. It is listed Grade I on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
Kew Gardens has its own police force, Kew Constabulary, which has been in operation since 1847.
- Plant houses
- Ornamental buildings
- Galleries and museums
- Plant collections
- Library and archives
- Kew Constabulary
- War Memorial
- Access and transport
- Related pages
- Images for kids
Kew consists mainly of the gardens themselves and a small surrounding community. Royal residences in the area which would later influence the layout and construction of the gardens began in 1299 when Edward I moved his court to a manor house in neighbouring Richmond. That manor house was later abandoned; however, Henry VII built Sheen Palace in 1501, which, under the name Richmond Palace, became a permanent royal residence for Henry VII.
Around the start of the 16th century courtiers attending Richmond Palace settled in Kew and built large houses. Early royal residences at Kew included Mary Tudor's house. Around 1600, the land that would become the gardens was known as Kew Field. The exotic garden at Kew Park, formed by Lord Capel John of Tewkesbury, was enlarged and extended by Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales, the widow of Frederick, Prince of Wales. The origins of Kew Gardens can be traced to the merging of the royal estates of Richmond and Kew in 1772.
In 1840 the gardens were adopted as a national botanical garden, the gardens were increased to 30 hectares (75 acres) and the pleasure grounds, or arboretum, extended to 109 hectares (270 acres), and later to its present size of 121 hectares (300 acres). The first curator was John Smith.
The Palm House was built between 1844 and 1848, and was the first large-scale structural use of wrought iron. It is considered "the world's most important surviving Victorian glass and iron structure". The structure's panes of glass are all hand-blown. The Temperate House, which is twice as large as the Palm House, followed later in the 19th century. It is now the largest Victorian glasshouse in existence. Kew was the location of the successful effort in the 19th century to propagate rubber trees for cultivation outside South America.
From 1959 to 2007 Kew Gardens had the tallest flagpole in Britain. Made from a single Douglas-fir from Canada, it was given to mark both the centenary of the Canadian Province of British Columbia and the bicentenary of Kew Gardens. The flagpole was removed after damage by weather and woodpeckers made it a danger.
Kew Gardens lost hundreds of trees in the Great Storm of 1987. A five-year, £41 million revamp of the Temperate House was completed in May 2018. It opened to the public on May 6.
- Treetop walkway
A canopy walkway, opened in 2008, takes visitors on a 200 metres (660 ft) walk 18 metres (59 ft) above the ground, in the tree canopy of a woodland glade. Visitors can ascend and descend by stairs and by a lift. The walkway floor is perforated metal and flexes under foot; the entire structure sways in the wind.
The accompanying photograph shows a section of the walkway, including the steel supports, which were designed to rust to a tree-like appearance to help the walkway fit in visually with its surroundings.
A short video detailing the construction of the walkway is available online.
- Sackler Crossing
The Sackler Crossing bridge, made of granite and bronze, opened in May 2006. It crosses the lake and is named in honour of philanthropists Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler.
The minimalist-styled bridge is designed as a sweeping double curve of black granite. The sides of the bridge are formed of bronze posts that give the impression, from certain angles, of forming a solid wall while, from others, and to those on the bridge, they are clearly individual posts that allow a view of the water beyond.
The bridge forms part of a path designed to encourage visitors to visit more of the gardens that had previously been popular and connects the two art galleries, via the Temperate and Evolution Houses and the woodland glade, to the Minka House and the Bamboo Garden.
The crossing won a special award from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2008.
- The Hive
The Hive (opened in 2016) is a multi-sensory experience designed to highlight the extraordinary life of bees. It stands 17 metres (56ft) tall and is set in a wildflower meadow.
- Vehicular tour
Kew Explorer is a service that takes a circular route around the gardens, provided by two 72-seater road trains that are fuelled by Calor Gas to minimise pollution. A commentary is provided by the driver and there are several stops.
Visitors can get on or off at various points around the gardens, so more visitors can get to all areas of the gardens. A map of the gardens is available on the Kew Gardens website.
- Compost heap
Kew has one of the largest compost heaps in Europe, made from green and woody waste from the gardens and the manure from the stables of the Household Cavalry. The compost is mainly used in the gardens, but on occasion has been auctioned as part of a fundraising event for the gardens.
The compost heap is in an area of the gardens not accessible to the public, but a viewing platform, made of wood which had been illegally traded but seized by Customs officers in HMRC, has been erected to allow visitors to observe the heap as it goes through its cycle.
- Guided walks
Free tours of the gardens are conducted daily by trained volunteers.
In March 2006, the Davies Alpine House opened, the third version of an alpine house since 1887. Although only 16 metres (52 ft) long the apex of the roof arch extends to a height of 10 metres (33 ft) in order to allow the natural airflow of a building of this shape to aid in the all-important ventilation required for the type of plants to be housed.
The new house features a set of automatically operated blinds that prevent it overheating when the sun is too hot for the plants together with a system that blows a continuous stream of cool air over the plants. The main design aim of the house is to allow maximum light transmission. For this the glass is of a special low iron type that allows 90 per cent of the ultraviolet light in sunlight to pass.
To conserve energy the cooling air is not refrigerated but is cooled by being passed through a labyrinth of pipes buried under the house at a depth where the temperature remains suitable all year round. The house is designed so that the maximum temperature should not exceed 20 °C (68 °F).
Originally designed for Buckingham Palace, this was moved to Kew in 1836 by King William IV. The building was formerly known as the Aroid House No. 1 and was used to display species of Araceae, the building was listed Grade II* in 1950. With an abundance of natural light, the building is now used for various exhibitions, weddings, and private events. It is also now used to exhibit the winners of the photography competition.
The Orangery was designed by Sir William Chambers, and was completed in 1761. It measures 28 by 10 metres (92 by 33 ft). It was found to be too dark for its intended purpose of growing citrus plants and they were moved out in 1841. After many changes of use, it is currently used as a restaurant.
A space frame of wrought iron arches, held together by horizontal tubular structures containing long cables, supports glass panes which were originally tinted green with copper oxide to reduce the significant heating effect. The 19 metres (62 ft) high central nave is surrounded by a walkway at 9 metres (30 ft) height, allowing visitors a closer look upon the palm tree crowns. In front of the Palm House on the east side are the Queen's Beasts, ten statues of animals bearing shields.
The Palm House was originally heated by two coal fired boilers. Coal was brought in by a light railway, running in an underground tunnel, using human-propelled wagons. In 1950 the railway was electrified. The tunnel is now used to carry piped hot water to the Palm House, from oil-fired boilers.
Princess of Wales Conservatory
Kew's third major conservatory, the Princess of Wales Conservatory was opened in 1987 by Diana, Princess of Wales. In 1989 the conservatory received the Europa Nostra award for conservation. The conservatory houses ten computer-controlled micro-climatic zones, with the bulk of the greenhouse volume composed of Dry Tropics and Wet Tropics plants. Significant numbers of orchids, water lilies, cacti, lithops, carnivorous plants and bromeliads are housed in the various zones. The cactus collection also extends outside the conservatory where some hardier species can be found.
The conservatory has an area of 4,499 square metres (48,500 square feet, or just over an acre). As it is designed to minimise the amount of energy taken to run it, the cooler zones are grouped around the outside and the more tropical zones are in the central area where heat is conserved. The glass roof extends down to the ground, giving the conservatory a distinctive appearance and helping to maximise the use of the sun's energy.
During the construction of the conservatory a time capsule was buried. It contains the seeds of basic crops and endangered plant species and key publications on conservation.
A rhizotron opened at the same time as the "treetop walkway", giving visitors the opportunity to investigate what happens beneath the ground where trees grow. The rhizotron is essentially a single gallery containing a set of large bronze abstract castings which contain LCD screens that carry repeating loops of information about the life of trees.
The Bonsai House was formerly known as the Alpine House No. 24 prior to the construction of the Davies Alpine House.
The Temperate House, commissioned in 1859, re-opened in May 2018 after being closed for restoration, is a greenhouse that has twice the floor area of the Palm House and is the world's largest surviving Victorian glass structure. It contains plants and trees from all the temperate regions of the world. Covering 4880 square metres, it rises to a height of 19 metres. Intended to accommodate Kew's expanding collection of hardy and temperate plants, it took 40 years to construct.
There is a viewing gallery in the central section from which visitors were able to look down on that part of the collection.
The Waterlily House is the hottest and most humid of the houses at Kew and contains a large pond with varieties of water lily, surrounded by a display of economically important heat-loving plants. It closes during the winter months.
It was built to house the Victoria amazonica, the largest of the Nymphaeaceae family of water lilies. This plant was originally transported to Kew in phials of clean water and arrived in February 1849, after several prior attempts to transport seeds and roots had failed.
The ironwork for this project was provided by Richard Turner and the initial construction was completed in 1852. The heat for the house was initially obtained by running a flue from the nearby Palm House but it was later equipped with its own boiler.
Formerly known as the Australian House. The house was a gift from the Australian Government. It was designed by S L Rothwell (Ministry of Works) with consultant engineer J E Temple and was constructed by the Crittall Manufacturing Company Ltd.
It opened in 1952. From 1995 it was known as the Evolution House. The building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 for its special architectural or historic interest.
In the south-east corner of Kew Gardens stands the Great Pagoda (by Sir William Chambers), erected in 1762, from a design in imitation of the Chinese Ta. The lowest of the ten octagonal storeys is 15 m (49 ft) in diameter. From the base to the highest point is 50 m (164 ft).
The walls of the building are composed of brick. The staircase, 253 steps, is in the centre of the building. During the Second World War holes were cut in each floor to allow for drop-testing of model bombs. The Pagoda was closed to the public for many years, but was reopened for the summer months of 2006. It has now had major renovations and reopened in 2018.
Built for the Japan-British Exhibition (1910) and moved to Kew in 1911, the Chokushi-Mon ("Imperial Envoy's Gateway") is a four-fifths scale replica of the karamon (gateway) of the Nishi Hongan-ji temple in Kyoto. It lies west of the Pagoda and is surrounded by a reconstruction of a traditional Japanese garden.
The finely carved woodwork of the Gateway is embellished with stylised flowers and animals. The most intricately carved panels depict an ancient legend about the devotion of a pupil to his master.
Following the Japan 2001 festival, Kew acquired a Japanese wooden house called a minka. It was originally erected in around 1900 in a suburb of Okazaki and is now located within the bamboo collection in the west central part of Kew Gardens. Japanese craftsmen reassembled the framework and British builders who had worked on the Globe Theatre added the mud wall panels.
Work on the house started on 7 May 2001 and, when the framework was completed on 21 May, a Japanese ceremony was held to mark what was considered an encouraging occasion. Work on the building of the house was completed in November 2001 but the internal artefacts were not all in place until 2006.
Queen Charlotte's Cottage
Within the conservation area is a cottage that was built sometime before 1771 for Queen Charlotte by her husband George III. It has been restored by Historic Royal Palaces and is separately maintained by them. It is open to the public on weekends and bank holidays during the summer.
Queen Charlotte's Cottage sits at the opposite edge of the Gardens from Kew Palace, tucked away in one of London's finest bluebell woods, part of which is over 300 years old. Today the building is in the trust of Historic Royal Palaces.
King William’s Temple
In the centre of the Mediterranean Garden stands King William's Temple, built in 1837 for Queen Victoria, in memory of William IV. It is made of stone with a series of cast-iron panels set in the inside walls commemorating British military victories from Minden (1759) to Waterloo (1815).
It was built in 1837 and originally called The Pantheon. Named after King William IV (1830–37).
The Temples of Aeolus and Arethusa
The Temple of Aeolus is a domed rotunda with eight Tuscan columns. The original temple was built in 1763 by Sir William Chambers. The present temple is an 1845 replacement by Decimus Burton.
The Temple of Arethusa is a small Greek temple with two Ionic columns and two outer Ionic pillars; it is decorated with a cornice and a key pattern frieze. It was built in 1758 by Sir William Chambers.
The Temple of Bellona
A whitewashed stucco temple. The facade has two pairs of Doric columns with a metope frieze pediment and an oval dome behind. Inside is a room with an oval domed centre. On the walls garlands and medallions with the names and numbers of British and Hanovarian units connected with the Seven Years' War. It was built in 1760 by Sir William Chambers.
The Ruined Arch
A brick arch with rustication in stucco, triple arched opening with round like lower side arches, it has a fragmented blocked cornice and brick sunken panels and a corniced doorway. It was built in 1759–60 by Sir William Chambers.
The Ice House is believed to be early 18-century, it has a brick dome with access arch and barrel vaulted passage-way, covered by a mound of earth.
Kew Palace is the smallest of the British royal palaces. It was built around 1631. It was later purchased by George III. The construction method is known as Flemish bond and involves laying the bricks with long and short sides alternating. This and the gabled front give the construction a Dutch appearance.
To the rear of the building is the "Queen's Garden" which includes a collection of plants believed to have medicinal qualities. Only plants that were still in existence in England by the 17th century are grown in the garden.
The building underwent significant restoration before being reopened to the public in 2006. It is administered separately from Kew Gardens, by Historic Royal Palaces.
In front of the palace is a sundial, which was given to Kew Gardens in 1959 to commemorate a royal visit. It was sculpted by Martin Holden and is a replica of one by Thomas Tompion, a celebrated 17th-century clock-maker, which had been sited near the surviving palace building since 1832 to mark the site of James Bradley's observations leading to his discovery of the aberration of light.
Galleries and museums
Admission to the galleries and museum is free after paying admission to the gardens. The International Garden Photographer of the Year Exhibition is an annual event with an indoor display of entries during the summer months.
The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanic Art opened in April 2008, and holds paintings from Kew's and Dr Shirley Sherwood's collections, many of which had never been displayed to the public before. The paintings and drawings are cycled on a six-monthly basis.
Near the Palm House is a building known as the General Museum or "Museum No. 1" which was opened in 1857. Housing Kew's economic botany collections including tools, ornaments, clothing, food and medicines, its aim was to illustrate human dependence on plants. The building was refurbished in 1998. The upper two floors are now an education centre and the ground floor houses the "Plants+People" exhibition which highlights the variety of plants and the ways that people use them. Due to its historical holdings, Kew is a member of The London Museums of Health & Medicine group.
The Marianne North Gallery was built in the 1880s to house the paintings of Marianne North, an MP's daughter who travelled alone to North and South America, South Africa and many parts of Asia, at a time when women rarely did so, to paint plants. The gallery has 832 of her paintings. The paintings were left to Kew by the artist.
The gallery had suffered considerable structural degradation since its creation and during a period from 2008 to 2009 major restoration took place. During the time the gallery was closed the opportunity was also taken to restore the paintings to their original condition. The gallery originally opened in 1882 and is still the only permanent exhibition in Great Britain dedicated to the work of one woman.
The plant collections include the Aquatic Garden. The Aquatic Garden, which celebrated its centenary in 2009, provides conditions for aquatic plants. The large central pool holds a selection of summer-flowering water lilies and the corner pools contain plants such as reed mace, bulrushes, phragmites and smaller floating aquatic species.
The Bonsai Collection is housed in a dedicated greenhouse near the Jodrell laboratory. The Cacti Collection is housed in and around the Princess of Wales Conservatory. The Carnivorous Plant collection is housed in the Princess of Wales Conservatory. The Grass Garden was created on its current site in the early 1980s to display ornamental and economic grasses; it was redesigned and replanted between 1994 and 1997. It is currently undergoing a further redesign and planting. Over 580 species of grasses are displayed.
The Herbaceous Grounds (Order Beds) were devised in the late 1860s by Sir Joseph Hooker, then director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, so that botany students could learn to recognise plants and experience at first hand the diversity of the plant kingdom. The collection is organised into family groups. Its name arose because plant families were known as natural orders in the 19th century. Over the main path is a rose pergola built in 1959 to mark the bicentennial of the Gardens. It supports climber and rambling roses selected for the length and profusion of flowering.
The Orchid Collection is housed in two climate zones within the Princess of Wales Conservatory. To maintain an interesting display the plants are changed regularly so that those on view are generally flowering. The Rock Garden, originally built of limestone in 1882, is now constructed of Sussex sandstone from West Hoathly, Sussex.
The rock garden is divided into six geographic regions: Europe, Mediterranean and Africa, Australia and New Zealand, Asia, North America, and South America. There are currently 2,480 different varieties of plants growing in the garden.
The Rose Garden is behind the Palm House, and was replanted between 2009 and 2010 using the original design from 1848. It is intended as an ornamental display rather than a collection of a particularly large number of varieties. Other collections and specialist areas include the rhododendron dell, the azalea garden, the bamboo garden, the juniper collection, the berberis dell, the lilac garden, the magnolia collection, and the fern collection.
The world's smallest water-lily, Nymphaea thermarum, was saved from extinction when it was grown from seed at Kew, in 2009.
The Arboretum, which covers over half of the total area of the site, contains over 14,000 trees of many thousands of varieties. Within the arboretum, five trees survive from the establishment of the botanical gardens in 1762, together they are known as the 'Five Lions'.
The Kew Herbarium is one of the largest in the world with approximately 7 million specimens used primarily for taxonomic study. The herbarium is rich in types for all regions of the world, especially the tropics, and is currently growing with 30,000 new specimen additions annually through international collaborations.
The Kew Herbarium is of global importance, attracting researchers from all over the world, especially the field of biodiversity. A large part of the herbarium has been digitised, referred to as the Kew Herbarium Catalogue, and is available to the general public on-line.
Kew Gardens also holds other hebaria and collections of scientific importance such as a Fungarium (a herbarium for fungi), a plant DNA bank and a seed bank.
Library and archives
The library and archives at Kew are one of the world's largest botanical collections, with over half a million items, including books, botanical illustrations, photographs, letters and manuscripts, periodicals, and maps. The Jodrell Library has been merged with the Economic Botany and Mycology Libraries and all are now housed in the Jodrell Laboratory.
The gardens have their own police force, Kew Constabulary, which has been in operation since 1847. Formerly known as the Royal Botanic Gardens Constabulary, it is a small, specialised constabulary of two sergeants and 12 officers, who patrol the grounds in a marked silver car. The Kew Constables are attested under section 3 of the Parks Regulation Act 1872, which gives them the same powers as the Metropolitan Police within the land belonging to the gardens.
Kew provides advice and guidance to police forces around the world where plant material may provide important clues or evidence in cases. In one famous case the forensic science department at Kew were able to ascertain that the contents of the stomach of a corpse found in the river Thames contained a highly toxic African bean.
Tucked away in a corner of Kew Gardens inside the Temple of Arethusa is the war memorial of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. On it are listed 37 names of the Kew gardeners killed in the First World War. It was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer in 1921. The memorial was erected at Kew in 1921.
Access and transport
Kew Gardens is accessible by a number of gates. Currently, there are four gates into Kew Gardens that are open to the public: the Elizabeth Gate, which is situated at the west end of Kew Green, and was originally called the Main Gate before being renamed in 2012 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II; the Brentford Gate, which faces the River Thames; the Victoria Gate (named after Queen Victoria), situated in Kew Road, which is also the location of the Visitors' Centre; and the Lion Gate, also situated in Kew Road.
Kew Gardens station, a London Underground and National Rail station opened in 1869 and served by both the District line and the London Overground services on the North London Line, is the nearest train station to the gardens.
London Buses stop near the Lion Gate and Victoria Gate entrances. London River Services operate from Westminster during the summer, stopping at Kew Pier. Cycle racks are located just inside the Victoria Gate, Elizabeth Gate and Brentford Gate entrances. There is a 300-space car park outside Brentford Gate, reached via Ferry Lane, as well as some free, though restricted, on-street parking on Kew Road.
Images for kids
Japanese garden at Kew in Spring
Kew Gardens Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.