Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Infobox World Heritage Site
WHS = Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

State Party =
Type = Cultural
Criteria = ii, iii, iv
ID = 1084
Region = Europe and North America
Year = 2003
Session = 27th
Link =
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, usually referred to simply as Kew Gardens, are extensive gardens and botanical glasshouses between Richmond and Kew in southwest London, England. The director is Professor Stephen D. Hopper, who succeeded Professor Sir Peter Crane. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is also the name of the organisation that runs Kew Gardens and Wakehurst Place gardens in Sussex. It is an internationally important botanical research and education institution with 700 staff and an income of £44 million for the year ended 31 March 2006 [ [ 2006 Annual Report, pages 2 and 22] ] , as well as a visitor attraction. The gardens are a Non-Departmental Public Body sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.


Kew Gardens originated in the exotic garden at Kew Park formed by Lord Capel of Tewkesbury. It was enlarged and extended by Princess Augusta, the widow of Frederick, Prince of Wales, for whom Sir William Chambers built several garden structures. One of these, the lofty Chinese pagoda built in 1761 still remains. George III enriched the gardens, aided by William Aiton and Sir Joseph Banks. The old Kew Park (by then renamed the White House), was demolished in 1802. The "Dutch House" adjoining was purchased by George III in 1781 as a nursery for the royal children. It is a plain brick structure now known as Kew Palace.

The collections grew somewhat haphazardly until the appointment of the first collector, Francis Masson, in 1771 [ [ Dictionary of Canadian Biography] ] . In 1840 the gardens were adopted as a national botanical garden. Under Kew's director, William Hooker, 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 120 hectares (300 acres).

The Palm House was built by architect Decimus Burton and iron-maker Richard Turner between 1844 and 1848, and was the first large-scale structural use of wrought iron. 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.

The year 1987 saw the opening of Kew's third major conservatory, the Princess of Wales Conservatory (opened by Princess Diana in commemoration of her predecessor Augusta's associations with Kew), [Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. " [ Augusta, Princess of Wales] ". Retrieved October 6, 2005.] which houses 10 climate zones.

In October 1987 Kew Gardens lost hundreds of trees in the Great Storm of 1987.

In July 2003, the gardens were put on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Kew Gardens today

Kew Gardens is a leading centre of botanical research, a training ground for professional gardeners and a visitor attraction. In 2005 Kew received 1.48 million visitors, which was the most since 1949 and is the largest number for any paid entry garden in the United Kingdom. [ [ Kew Annual Report and Accounts for the Year Ended 31 March 2006] , page 9.] The gardens are mostly informal, with a few formal areas. There are conservatories, a herbarium, a library (admission by appointment only, +44 20 8332 5414) and eating places. In the winter months there is an ice rink.

Herbarium and seedbank

The Kew herbarium is one of the largest in the world with approximately 7 million specimens used primarily for taxonomic study [ [ Kew website, Herbarium Collections] ] . The herbarium is rich in types for all regions of the world, especially the tropics.

The Harvard University Herbaria and the Australian National Herbarium co-operate with Kew in the IPNI database to produce an authoritative source of information on botanical nomenclature.

Kew is important as a seedbank. It co-sponsors the Millennium Seed Bank Project inside the Wellcome Trust Millennium Building at Wakehurst Place in Sussex.

Despite unfavourable growing conditions (atmospheric pollution from London, dry soils and low rainfall) Kew remains one of the most comprehensive plant collections in Britain. In an attempt to expand the collections away from these unfavourable conditions, Kew has established two out-stations, at Wakehurst Place in Sussex, a National Trust property, and (jointly with the Forestry Commission) Bedgebury Pinetum in Kent, the latter specialising in growing conifers.

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 was recently merged with the Economic Botany and Mycology Libraries and all are now housed in the Jodrell Laboratory.


The nearest combined rail and London Underground station is Kew Gardens station (District Line and London Overground) to the east of the gardens.

Bus routes: 65 and 391


Alpine house

In March 2006 the Davies Alpine House opened, the third version of an alpine house since 1887.


Standing near the Pagoda there is a replica of part of a Japanese temple. Built in 1910, it is a copy of the Karamon (Chinese gate) of Nishi Hongan-ji in Kyoto. It is surrounded by a reconstruction of a traditional Japanese garden.

Compost heap

Kew has the largest compost heap in the world, made from green waste from the gardens and the waste 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 fund raising event for the gardens.

Guided walks

Free tours of the gardens are conducted by trained volunteers and leave from Victoria Gate at 11am and 2pm every day (except Christmas Day).

International Garden Photographer of the Year Exhibition

Near the Pavilion Restaurant there is an open air display of selected entries for the 2008 "International Garden Photographer of the Year" competition.

This competition is now an annual event.

Kew Palace

Kew Palace is the smallest of the British royal palaces. It was built by Samuel Fortrey, a Dutch merchant in 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 tend to give the construction a definite Dutch appearance.

To the rear of the building is the "Queen's Garden" which includes a collection of plants believed to have medicinal qualities. No plants that were not extant in England before the seventeenth century are grown in the garden.

The building underwent significant restoration before being opened to the public in 2006.

It is administered separately from the gardens and is the only permanently open attraction within the grounds that requires an additional fee to view.

Minka house

added the mud wall panels.

Work on the house started on the seventh of May 2001 and when the framework was completed on the twenty first of May in the same year a Japanese ceremony was held to mark what was considered an auspicious occasion. Work on the building of the house was completed in November of 2001 but the internal artifacts were not all in place until 2006.

The Minka house is located within the bamboo collection in the West central part of the gardens.

Marianne North Gallery

to paint plants in a time when women rarely did so. The gallery has 832 of her paintings. The paintings were left to Kew by the artist and condition of the bequest is that the layout of the paintings in the gallery may not be altered.

The Marianne North Gallery is currently closed for extensive refurbishments.


Near the Palm House is a building known as "Museum No. 1" which was designed by Decimus Burton and opened in 1857. Its aim was to illustrate mankind's dependence on plants, housing Kew's economic botany collections including tools, ornaments, clothing, food and medicines. 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.

Admission to the galleries and museums is free after for paying admission to the Gardens (£13, children under 17 free if accompanied by an adult).


In a corner of Kew Gardens stands the Great Pagoda (by William Chambers), erected in the year 1762, from a design in imitation of the Chinese Ta. The lowest of the ten octagonal storeys is 49 feet (15 m) in diameter. From the base to the highest point is 163 feet (50 m).

Each storey finishes with a projecting roof, after the Chinese manner, originally covered with ceramic tiles and adorned with large dragons; a story is still propagated that they were made of gold and were reputedly sold by George IV to settle his debts [ [ "Kew, History & Heritage"] ] . The truth is that the dragons were made of wood painted gold, and simply rotted away with the ravages of time. The walls of the building are composed of brick. The staircase, 253 steps, is in the centre of the building. The Pagoda was closed to the public for many years, but reopened for the summer months in 2006. Renovation is under way for permanent opening to the public to celebrate Kew's 250th birthday in 2009.

During the Second World War a hole in each floor was cut so there was a hole running down the inside from top to bottom. Model bombs were then dropped to test the way that they fell. []

Queen Charlotte's Cottage

Within the conservation area is a cottage that was given to Queen Charlotte as a wedding present on her marriage to George III. It has been restored by Historic Royal Palaces and is separately administered by them.

It is open to the public on the May Day and August bank holidays and at weekends during July and August.


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.

ackler Crossing

, it crosses the lake and is named in honour of philanthropists Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler.

hirley Sherwood Gallery

, and holds paintings from Kew's and Dr Shirley Sherwood's collections, many of which have never been displayed to the public before. It features paintings by artists such as Georg D. Ehret, the Bauer brothers, Pierre-Joseph Redouté and Walter Hood Fitch. The paintings and drawings will be cycled on a six monthly basis. The gallery is linked to the Marianne North Gallery (see above).

Treetop walkway

A new treetop walkway [ [ "Treetop Walkway"] ] opened on May 24th, 2008. This walkway is 18 m high and 200 m long and takes visitors into the tree canopy of a woodland glade.

There is a short film detailing the construction of the walkway showing on a repeat loop in the Princess of Wales Conservatory for the duration of the 2008 trees festival, but also available online [ [ "The making of the Treetop Walkway"] ] .

Vehicular tour

Kew Explorer is a service that takes a circular route around the gardens, provided by two 72-seater road trains that are fueled by Calor Gas. A commentary is provided by the driver and there are several stops. Tickets cost £4 for adults and £1 for children, and allow travel for the whole day.cite web | url = | title = Kew Explorer | publisher = Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew | accessdate = 2008-04-24]

Waterlily house

The water lily house is the hottest and most humid of the houses at Kew and contains a large pond with varieties of waterlily, surrounded by a display of economically important heat-loving plants.

Plant collections at Kew

The Arboretum

Kew Gardens is also an arboretum, containing tree varieties.

The Carnivorous Plant collection

This is housed in the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

The Cacti collection

This is housed in and around the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

Other collections

The Alpine collection

The Bonsai collection

The Grass collection

The Rhodedendron dell

The Azaelea garden

The Bamboo garden

The Rose garden

The rose garden, which is behind the palm house, is currently in the process of being replanted. The new turf has been laid and planting of the roses will begin in the new year.

The Juniper collection

The Berberis dell

The Lilac garden

The Aquatic garden

The Rock garden

The Herb garden

The Fern collection

The Orchid collection

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.

ee also

* Joseph Dalton Hooker who succeeded his father as director in 1865.


There have been three series of "A Year at Kew" filmed in the gardens for BBC television. These have been released on DVD, including a box set of all three programmes.


External links

* [ Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew] Official website
* [ Millennium Seed Bank Project]
* [ The International Plant Names Index]
* [ BBC "A Year at Kew" documentary behind the scenes at Kew Gardens]
* [ Explore Kew Gardens] Virtual tour including 360° panoramas, mini-movies, maps and full text for the hearing-impaired
* [ Images and some highlights of Kew]
* [ Michael Pead :: photos of Kew Gardens]
* [ The Pagoda reopens to the public at Kew Gardens]
* [ Macros pictures of flowers and plants in Kew]
* [ A short movie about Kew Gardens]
* [,,70141-1316970-1,00.html Sky News pictures and video introducing Treetop Walkway]

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