England's Kew Gardens: A Museum of Botanical Life

Tour the world's largest collection of living plants and some exotic specimens.
An 1882 Rock Garden

An 1882 Rock Garden

Kew's rock garden features mountain, Mediterranean and moisture-loving plants from around the world.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Kew's rock garden features mountain, Mediterranean and moisture-loving plants from around the world.

During my Collette tour of English gardens, I spent a day wandering around the remarkable Kew garden in a plant-besotted stupor. Established in 1759 and extending over 327 acres, the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew is practically a theme park of growing, a reminder of the astounding diversity of the natural world. 

There are treasures around every corner, and an array of awe-inspiring garden “rooms:” a Japanese garden and Great Pagoda designed by William Chambers in 1762, a woodland garden, 19th century rock garden and vegetable gardens, among many others. A celebration of plant life from around the globe, there are groves dedicated to redwoods, azaleas, magnolias and rhododendron.  A water lily house so steamy your glasses and camera lens immediately fog up upon entry features waterborne flowers in hallucinatory neon colors. Walks between the countless garden tableaux are punctuated by centuries-old trees that dot its landscape like living temples to time’s passage. 

Throughout the decades, Kew's design has profited from the talents of such renowned landscape architects as Charles Bridgeman, William Kent, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown and William Chambers and the garden remains an essential visit for garden tourists.

A Sample of Kew's Plant Collection

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The Handkerchief Tree

Also known as the dove tree, Davidia involucrata is distinguished by its long white flowers that look like tissues.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Actinidia Kolomikta

The unusual leaves of Actinidia kolomikta appear to be dipped in white paint. This beautiful vine is a deciduous, twining climber.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding heart, or Lamprocapnos spectabilis (formerly Dicentra spectabilis) is one of the endless varieties of plants on view at Kew Gardens and was first introduced into England in the 19th century from Japan by plant explorer Robert Fortune.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Kew Rock Garden

The dramatic rock garden at Kew.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

An 1882 Rock Garden

Kew's rock garden features mountain, Mediterranean and moisture-loving plants from around the world.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Marigolds

Marigolds are planted in Kew's Global Kitchen vegetable garden to ward off pests.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Moroccan Mint

Moroccan mint from Kew's Global Garden.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Chives

Beautiful chive flowers in the Kew edible garden.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Old Soul

A weeping beech grafted to a conventional beech results in an astonishingly original tree dating to 1790.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Wild Garlic

Wild garlic growing on the grounds at Kew.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Agave Tequilana

Agave tequilana, or blue agave, is used in making tequila. Notice the clever design of this cacti planter using a mix of grey and tan stones.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Cactus

Oreocereus celsianus, in a Kew cactus display. Notice the pattern created by using different shades of stone in the display.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Monkey Puzzle Tree

The monkey puzzle tree, or Araucaria araucana, the national tree of Chile has a fascinating, sculptural quality. This unusual conifer was first brought to England in 1795.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Monkey Puzzle Detail

A detail of the monkey puzzle tree from Chile.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Kew Trivia

  • Kew boasts one of the largest compost heaps in Europe.
  • Kew participates in the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, the largest plant conservation partnership in the world. In this program seeds of the most imperiled plants, and of the most use to the future, are conserved outside of their native habitats.
  • In 2003 Kew was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for illustrating significant periods of the art of gardens from the 18th to the 20th centuries.
  • Kew contains the largest Victorian greenhouse in existence, the Temperate House.
  • The experts working at Kew are an important resource in forensic plant science and aid the police in solving crimes in which botanical materials are involved.
  • Kew contains the world's largest collection of orchids.
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