The greatest glasshouse in the world?
It’s the world’s largest surviving Victorian glasshouse and I was very lucky to go along to the reopening earlier in May at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. It’s not often that I’d say I felt awe struck, but walking into this beautiful building, that’s exactly what it was like. At 190m long and 19m high at the tallest section, it’s the vast scale, the intricate iron work, the glass, and of course the incredible plants!
As well as the sheer scale of the building, it’s the fact that it was built in 1863 (how?!!), and the way that it has been restored to house 10,000 plants, three of which are extinct in the wild. On the day I went, the finishing touches were still being put to this incredible restoration project. Turf was going down, plants were still being planted and the smell of fresh paint was in the air. It has taken five years to bring the glasshouse back to its former glory, and that has involved replacing 15,000 panes of glass, using 180km of scaffolding, and 69,000 different elements have been removed, cleaned, repaired or replaced.
It’s all about the plants, of course, and you will find Kew’s temperate zone specimens here, with ones from South Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the oceanic islands. Some of the plants, such as the tree ferns, have been in Kew’s collection since the glasshouse first opened. I love the idea of these ancient plants, that have outlived the people who brought them to Kew.
Climb the stairs to get the most breathtaking views along the glasshouse. I just couldn’t stop thinking about how the structure was built (to the design of its architect, Decimus Burton).
The gardeners were busy planting as we walked round. Here are some succulents. 500 plants had to removed from the glasshouse while the renovations were taking place. They were nurtured and propagated in temporary housing before being replanted. A massive task. I walked around the outside to gain a sense of perspective. The naturalised tulips were still in full colour.
Those jewel tones!
A quiet spot. Kew is always busy but it’s possible to find peaceful spaces to sit and reflect. Sometimes it’s hard to get beyond the fact that the human race is trashing the planet, but then you visit a project like this, and see so much good work being done, by teams of knowledgeable and talented people, and it’s reassuring.
After I’d spent time in the Temperate House, I had a wander through the grounds, soaked up the atmosphere, appreciated the blossom, and drank a cup of coffee in the cafe. I love the streets around Kew Gardens, too, the rows of tall white houses, and even the tube station is beautiful. It’s how I used to imagine London when I was a small child.
There’s even a plant shop at the station, so if you’ve managed to resist buying something in Kew’s gorgeous shop, there’s still time!
To see opening times and more information, visit http://www.kew.org