As much walking as you like, April, clouds. Solo
I’ve had a lifetime working with plants, and in that lifetime I’ve spent many hours hunting them down and gawping at them at Kew. It’s one of the most famous botanical gardens in the world, it certainly has the largest and most diverse collection of botanical specimens, including its preserved plant and fungal specimens, we’re talking in excess of 8 million. That’s a lot of botany. As if that wasn’t enough, in a state of the art underground storage facility in Wakehurst Sussex there are 2.4 billion seeds in their Millennium Seed Bank. A visit to Kew has a lot to live up to. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been, but I must be approaching triple figures, so the question of whether it’s worth a walk for me is academic. If you like things that grow, and you don’t mind them tamed, you’ll probably like a walk in the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.
Firstly, and unlike any other walk on here, you’ll have to pay to get in. When you’re in you’re a captive for the food outlets, and they aren’t cheap, plus you’ll have to run the gauntlet of the garden centre and shop. They have the same plants as other decent garden centres so there’s no need to go beserk in there and you can bring your own picnic. It’s also very accessible, you can borrow motorised buggies and there’s even a little train bus. You cannot however bring your pets.
I can walk for miles, particularly if I haven’t been for a while. I feel the need to check in with old tree friends, and see what’s new in the glasshouses. It’s a mile across but I’ve never once walked in a line across it. I will step off from the main drag and wander into the trees. I prefer the wild areas to the blousy floral displays. I’ll go left from the main gate and find the grassy area beneath the trees that most people miss. In summer I’ll escape the crowds and find a spot and lie down, listening to jackdaw and crow town.
In Spring, today’s visit, Kew is beginning to burst. Already the magnolias and cherry blossom are showing off, the best of the spring trees are along the south eastern path where you’ll find the camellias, around the Temperate House, where the cherries are underplanted with tulips and the rhododendron dell.
Everything is happening in Spring. Today a fox sauntered across the grass in front of me. I went towards the end of the day when things are a little quieter. If you come first thing on a June morning you might see a deer or if you’re lucky a knock-kneed fawn skittering for cover in the bushes. I’ve never seen the badgers but I know they’re there. I’ve watched a green woodpecker bouncing unconcerned by my feet as I sat, and a greater spotted high up in the tree.
Where I walk is dependent on my mood and the season. It is a year round place to walk. In spring I walk round looking for unfurling leaves, blossom and the shape of things to come. I’ll sit in blossom petals and look for wildlife. I’ll visit the chaotic bird feeders and the bluebells at Queen Charlotte’s cottage. I’ll almost certainly have lunch in the pavilion.
In summer I’ll sit with the jackdaws, or by the lake if it’s hot. The geese will eat duck food from your hand. We’ll play look up, lying under trees watching the blue sky through gently waving branches. I fell asleep once and the jackdaws stole my dream, it was gone when I woke up. I might take a look at the rose garden or grand displays of flowers along the Broad Walk, but more likely we’ll go dragonfly and butterfly watching in the woodland, and have a lazy picnic. We did the Big Butterfly Count here, and found plenty. If it’s too warm I’ll hide in the bamboos.
Kew is special in the autumn, as is any place with magical trees. First I’ll check on the colour of the two Euonymous by the temple of Bellona. In a normal autumn they are stunning, in a good colour year they make me cry. I’ll seek out the Liquidambers and maples, and if my timing is right I’ll stand under a Ginkgo leaf shower like a dinosaur, these are the oldest tree species in the world. Or I’ll take a moment of peace in the Japanese garden.
But Winter is my favourite time of year in Kew. The crowds have gone, and the trees are stark naked, but I know they’re up to something. Now is the time to walk briskly along the holly walk, or under the giant redwoods and if needs be, warm up in the Palm House. You’ll probably meet the jays on the way there. I like to check in with the carnivorous plants in the Princess of Wales glasshouse, just to make sure they are eating enough. Then I’ll go looking for the secret winter scents: christmas box and witch hazel, and my favourite, gorgeous wintersweet which hides near the Nash conservatory, once smelled, hard to leave behind. And at Christmas (for an extra charge) there is the Kew light show, in the darkness surrounded by fire and neon with mulled apple juice.
So pick up your free map on the way in, study it and then hand it back. You don’t need it anyway because whichever direction you decide to go in you’ll find your Kew. But don’t stick to the main paths and signs, there is much more to find off the beaten track.
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More walks in this area
Kew is easily reached on public transport, Kew Gardens station is served by the district and overground lines. Allow as much time as you can spare to enjoy your walk. There is of course no set route and you should not feel obliged to visit everything, every glasshouse or every square inch. I recommend walking to some of the outer areas, particularly around the southern end. Bear in mind your map isn’t oriented north-south. The glasshouses are fun to visit too, particularly walking the high level, as is the treetop walk. Look out for less visited spots like the rock garden and alpine house. There will always be exhibitions or special events, including the famous Orchid Festival which runs in February. Go early if you want to see that but be prepared for queues on the weekend.
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