Friday, 7 September 2012

The Royal Botanical Gardens At Kew (Part One): It's Bigger on the Inside

For the past four days my darling boyfriend has been in Amsterdam. Without me. As in, I am still stuck at home, trying to make money and pull some semblance of purpose out of being a new graduate who doesn't quite know what she wants to do with her life (no, traveling the world with a beautiful man and not wasting any time working is not an option. Or so they tell me...) while he's enjoying a new city filled with amazing things (and two world heritage sites). 

I will grudgingly add that it's not his fault really. This is a trip he needs to do for his degree. Like a super grown up, undeniably cool, field trip. This still doesn't mean I'll stop pouting until he comes home  again. 

However, he did manage to call today and he made me realize that I need to put on my big girl panties and realize that while he is gone for another four days (who's counting?) I should get some work done. You know, all those blog posts/applications/one novel all sitting around mostly/partially/a little finished. 

My last post was about pack lunches. They are important. And what better day to take advantage of pack lunches than a sunny (mostly) day at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
The iconic Palm House.
Awesome shot by the mister. It was not so sunny towards the end.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew were created in 1759 and the grounds are HUGE. You can explore several different "houses", explore acres and acres of gardens and a palace or two (okay one is a cottage). It's become a world heritage site because of the examples of garden art that spans the 18th to 20th centuries. It also holds many conserved plants, documents at the school and it's extensive "study of plant diversity and economic botany".
While I appreciate that, like all sites, it has great significance to culture and history mostly my only thought when planning our trip was OMG FLOWERS! FLOWERS! I HOPE THEY HAVE LILIES AND ROSES! I LOVE FLOWERS! 

I don't often have deep thoughts. 

What I didn't really think about when we were planning was that we would have to have such an early morning. As you're probably all aware, but I'll say it again, Matt is from North London. Kew is on the other side, more or less. From north london we took the Piccadilly line all the way down to Hammersmith. You could, hypothetically go all the way to Kew without changing BUT you have to make sure you're on a train to Richmond and NOT the train to Ealing Broadway. Because then you would go straight past the way to Kew and have to back track. Which is annoying.

This is why you have to pay attention kiddo's.
Had Matt not been there, I would have ended up at Ealing Broadway myself.
When you do finally reach Kew, however, it's amazing. The Village of Kew is so unbelievably quaint, adorable, and all other manner of things lovely, I didn't mind the walk from the train station to the Gardens (about 5-10 minutes). I want to live there when I finally grow up. I did take some pictures of the gorgeous houses and their, surprisingly exotic for England until you remember colonialism, landscapes. But then I felt creepy. And while I may or may not have kept them to dream about I certainly won't post them. 

When you enter the beautiful gates you have to buy your tickets (obviously). It's £14.50 for adults and £12.50 for students. Not exactly cheap but well worth the money for the massive amount of stuff you can see and do. I should mention that we arrived shortly after the opening time at 9:30 am. Early yes, but highly recommended. We beat most the massive crowds and only had to share the Gardens with a few others at first. Also, this meant we were able to leave somewhat before the leaving rush at the end of the day and make it home before the Tube got too crazy (also Matt's leg didn't have to suffer too much).
I'd like to point out that I am considered an "Adult" and I don't understand.
When we first arrived we decided that travel had been much too much and we stopped to get ourselves some tea. Just inside the gates we found the gift shop and a small cafe. It's fairly reasonably priced and lets face it, getting up that early in the morning to travel doesn't offer up a lot of time for a good breakfast. So the boy needed tea and I desperately needed a snack (the scones are lovely by the way.) After that quick break Matt pulled out the map we received at the ticket desk and tried to plan out our day. 

I say tried because I tend to be the kind of person who would rather wander and find their way before I even think about looking at a map. But Matthew loves maps. This is sometimes a point of contention. Although, I will concede that maps are pretty and wonderful to use in decoration. 

Anyway, I had already chosen our first stop and Matt, lovely and wonderful and way too nice as he is, let my have my way yet again. 

Our first stop (as I dragged him past the Palm House - the most iconic, must see part of Kew) was the Waterlily House.
I was so excited I took this picture while I was walking.
Amazingly it's one of the few I've taken that's (mostly) straight.
The Waterlily House was built in the late 1800's specifically to house a new species of waterlily discovered in the Brazil - the Giant Water Lily. It's scientific name is Victoria Amazonica for Queen Victoria and one of the main locations of its growth - the Amazon River Basin.

These bad boys are my FAVORITE. While the flower is relatively small in size, it takes the name Giant Water Lily from it's massive leaves. I fully intend to ride one down the Amazon River one day. You may be wondering, "What is she thinking???" I'm thinking that I will look absolutely majestic floating down the river on a water lily and that all the animals will see me and obviously accept me as their queen so no harm could possibly come to me. It will be awesome. Matt doesn't exactly agree. But I digress.

The Waterlily House is small in comparison to the other houses at Kew but it's still my favorite. You enter as small antechamber and if you look up, you'll see you're under a canopy of what appear to be small watermelons (maybe just regular melons?) with pepper plants growing in small beds on either side. The main room is one giant pond in the center, with complimenting plants growing in the corners around the ponds walk way.

The lilies are HUGE. They look like so much fun, do they not?
The pond is filled with HUGE water lily leaves and also your smaller standard lilies. The flowers themselves were some of the biggest lilies I've ever seen and we're, quite  frankly, all the colors I would ever paint my daughters room (should I have one). Just gorgeous in the extreme.

Matt is ever the one for details and learning and, thanks to him, I cooled my jets long enough to really enjoy being there and to learn a few things.

The major learning point: The lilies aren't actually Victoria Amazonica because they couldn't keep the very temperamental plant alive and thriving away from it's home (this plant is made for me) and therefore what you will actually see is it's cousin (and basically twin) Victoria Cruziana.

Also it's HOT - really humid. We were sweating within the first 5 minutes.
Victoria Cruziana - So beautiful you'll forget you were there to see something else.
Also, see how big these babies are? They are smaller than Victoria Amazonica. 
Just saying.
We chose our next stop not really based on our proximity (even though it's right next to the Waterlily House) but on the desire to avoid crowds. I wanted to save it for the end initially but Matt didn't want to wait when it was right there and, even though we were there early, the crowds that come when it's summer and there's no school were already out in full force. Also, there were a lot of pregnant women there that day. We didn't really get that. 
The Palm House. In my opinion, one of the most beautiful buildings in England.
The Palm House was built from 1844 to 1848 and is home to (some of) the palms, cycads, and climbers of the the Botanic Gardens collection. It's very much like a rain forest and houses plants from Australia and Asia as well as Africa. My main impression was basically: it's green. Just very green. If I was a different person I would have payed better attention to the plants and what there was to read about them. But mostly I just like to wander and I have trouble focusing on any one thing - it was just green. Matt, I know, stopped to read plaques like a normal person. At least, when he wasn't trying to keep up with my wandering.
I do know what these are!!! 
Try to get that song out of your head now. You're welcome. 
Staircase to heaven? Secret tree forts?
Are they the same thing?
What I can say about the Palm House is this:  Even with all the people we didn't manage to beat inside, the atmosphere is still very calm and natural. These are plants most people will never see in their natural habitat (although Matt and I will make a sincere effort) and it's amazing that they can bring them all together in this beautiful building.
The center dome is the tallest, therefore the it houses the largest palm trees. It's really hard to see the tops of the trees for, you know, all the rest of the trees. However, through the greenery you could still see beautiful examples of the victorian architecture. Like these stairs. Which, I'm assuming, are the only way to see the tallest palm trees. And also maybe get into the best position to build a tree fort. (You could hypothetically hide one in there).
No idea what these flowers are but I liked them.
Also the floors are mostly these awesome looking grates because these plants need water, and a lot of it, every day. My favorite part? There was someone there watering the plants while we were walking through and I got to run through the spray. Priorities. 

It was so hot in there and this was amazing.
After we left the Palm House we continued our trek into the Gardens. At this point it became a slight race for us. Could we beat the crowds gathering at the gate? 

The Rose Gardens are located just outside the Palm House. They were, unfortunately rather bare but I think we can blame that on the weird ass weather that London saw this summer. As we passed through the Rose Garden we could see Japanese Pagoda up ahead. Matt very much wanted to see the Pagoda so we started to head towards it. ( I, for one, still don't understand why the Pagoda was even there.)

The problem was, the Pagoda never got any closer. It was very similar to our experience on the Washington Mall, during my birthday trip to D.C. last year. It NEVER ends. When Matt realized we weren't making much headway he decided to detour a bit. We ended up heading up in to a small garden that I honestly can't remember the name of. On the other side, we found the Temperate House.

At this point I was a little annoyed at the fact that we had changed what we were doing - I don't like maps but I like plans - and Matt enjoyed being able to lead the way to the Temperate House and reminding me how we would have missed it were it not for him. (Yes, darling, you're awesome :P)

I shouldn't have complained. He's super cute, even from behind.
Especially when he's helping by carrying our lunch.
The Temperate House is the largest surviving victorian glasshouse. It has African plants, sub-tropical trees and palms.

It doesn't really look that big from the front, but it's certainly gorgeous.
You can see the unattainable pagoda in the distance.
I have to say, we didn't really spend that much time in the Temperate House. It was getting near to a time when we were going to need tea again and we were slightly distractible. What we did see, though, we loved. I actually preferred it too the Palm House. The plants are smaller and less overpowering. They simply ease along the structure of the house and fill the space delicately.

Slightly similar to Fern Gully.
Where the Palm House is calm but feels a bit packed in, the Temperate House is serene and magical and I wish I had taken the time to just sit and breathe and focus.

We did take the time to take a look at an art exhibit that Kew was presenting this summer, David Nash at Kew . David Nash makes some amazing sculptures out of wood. If you get a chance to go before the exhibit closes in April 2013, I highly suggest making it a point to find all of his work located around the Gardens. It's really quite beautiful in it's simplicity. Also, until September, you can watch David Nash working in the Wood Quarry. Except, of course, on Sundays. Because Matt and I were there on a Sunday. 
The seat of the Jungle King (that's my name for it anyway).
 This is a scene you save for your novel. And I did.
Unfortunately, some of the rooms in the Temperate House were being redone so after the main room there was nothing left to see. However these awesome flowers were by the doors on our way out.  They are called Fuschia's and I love them. I'd never seen them before I found them growing in Matt's Gran's garden. Now, they're everywhere. 

Pretty in Pink
My favorite purple! Also, I'm a camera genius (see: just really lucky)
We left the Temperate house through the side door because that led us straight to the Evolution House.

You know he doesn't even try...
The Evolution House was really just a pass through for us, partially because tea and partially because it was FILLED with children. While there are no dinosaurs shown in the Evolution House, their tracks and facts about them are used to teach children about how plants have evolved over thousands and thousands of years. My favorite parts were the waterfalls. Which Matt wouldn't let me swim in.

When you leave the Evolution House, if you go straight (i.e. still towards the pagoda) you'll find yourself on the Holly Walk, home to the largest selection of mature Holly's in the UK (or maybe anywhere? I can't remember).

Matt pulled out his trusty map and guided us to one of the cafe's in Kew that was close by. If you plan on buying lunch at the Gardens, you should know that, while the food is very fresh and looks very tasty it is a bit expensive. Even just getting tea and hot chocolate was a bit much. But it was needed. Look how happy he looks after tea...
A caffeinated boyfriend is a good boyfriend
Miraculously, after our quick stop for refreshments. We ventured back into the Gardens and stumbled upon this...
It's too far away to see the look of pure satisfaction on his face.
All because of a Pagoda. I did not get it.
Matt finally found his Pagoda. Though I'm not it's biggest fan, I have to admit that it's a striking structure. Now, I have to apologize because there are no pictures of the Japanese garden that lies just beyond the Pagoda but I have to say it's beautiful. It's visible from the path to the rest of the Gardens so many people just walk by, but it has a bench nestled in the tree's. It's a great place to look at the map.

We decided that lunch really needed to happen sooner, rather than later. The decision was to have lunch by the Thames (which reaches all the way to Kew... or from Kew... It's there.) On the way there we stopped to see the Wood Quarry, another water lily pond (this one outdoors) and the Queen's Cottage. 

On the way we saw this magnificent little jerk. Yes, peacocks are jerks, prissy little jerks. But he was pretty.

And we found the pond...
I would have loved to stay and admire it from one of the benches lining the pond
 but, the weather changed from July to November in 30 seconds. So we snapped a picture and kept going.
We were following our selected path to the Queen's Cottage when off in the distance, something caught my eye. There. Was. A. Bear.

Not a real bear. Not even a fluffy bear. It was carved out of wood. But omg it was a bear. I pissed Matt off a bit, I think, by completely stopping mid- sentence and running to the bear. But he was still okay with taking my picture.
BEAR HUGS. I'm pretending it's fluffy. Just pretend.
While I was excited to see the bear, my little detour ended up taking us a very strange, back pathways way to the Queens Cottage. Although, I can say with confidence now, even if the Garden is bigger than you would expect if you keep going you will always find something. 

I always feel awkward when they have people dressed up at these places.
I never know what to say, except maybe to ask them if their undies are also historically accurate.
At the Queen's Cottage they have two guides in period dress to answer any questions you may have about the place but they don't actually lead you through. You're pretty much allowed to wander. The Queen's Cottage, also known as Queen Charlotte's Cottage was built for Queen Charlotte in the late 18th century. It was a place to relax and picnic; basically a safe haven. It's only open on the weekends and Bank holidays only and only from April to September. 

Very few of the rooms were open for viewing but, those that are, remain decorated the way they would have been. The front parlor had some very interesting colour choices. Also these bronze coloured pictures COVERED the walls.

You can then go up the stairs (past large vases of rather ironic fake flowers) and through the main bedroom, which is whimsical to say the least...

I could read Alice in Wonderland here for hours...
Then you walk down a different set of stairs, past the closed in kitchen, and out the door. We ended up in the same place we started. Not disappointing, I would still recommend going if you happen to be there when it's open, but still not what we were expecting. Before you ask what that was, I'm not sure, so don't.

Now, the next thing that happened, is very easily summed up with the previously stated fact that Kew is bigger on the inside. The map is misleading. By A LOT. Essentially the back half of the Gardens is just   used for conservation of the local land. Therefore it's basically hiking through the forest. When you're not sure you're going the right way. Believe me, I though I was going to die because my legs were going to fall off. Poor Matt with his brace... I can't even begin to imagine that. 

But, like I said, you will always find something. When we finally made it to the break in the tree's I was so relieved.

Ladies and  Gentlemen, the River Thames.
The Gardens had filled up considerably at this point but there was so much open space that it didn't seem at all crowded next to the river. We people watched and bird watched and enjoyed our pack lunch (lovingly packed by Mama Gordon for us) and just enjoyed sitting for the first time in what must have been a million years.

See this bench? I love this bench.
With lunch done, we stood up and put our trash in the bin (my purse was suddenly much lighter) and we regrouped. Down a larger path (more like a big green lawn that was straight) we could just barely see the Palm House. Don't be alarmed, we didn't walk all that way for nothing. This would end up being similar to the Pagoda... damn near unattainable no matter how far we walked towards it.

But there was still so much to see...

This post is becoming MASSIVE. I honestly can't believe we did so much in one day. So, in order to bring a fresh perspective I'm going to break this day into two parts. I certainly need a rest just writing about it all. I'm sure you need a rest from reading it all. So until tomorrow (or maybe the next day) I leave you all with visions of giant lilies and oddly located Pagoda's dancing through your heads.

x T

***NOTE: For those of you naysayers out there, this site, will explain how the Giant Water Lily could totally support human weight. It's also just a nice place to learn about my favorite plant.

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