As spring is in the air, temperatures are rising and we’re all starting to want to spend more and more time outdoors, it seems fitting this month to shine our spotlight on West London’s most famous gardens, at Kew.
This 330-acre exotic garden houses the largest and most diverse botanical collections in the world. Visitors can find over 30,000 plant species within the gardens, alongside seven million preserved plant specimens in the Herbarium.The site is also home to an impressive collection of architecture. Kew Gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and no fewer than forty Grade-I and Grade-II Listed structures can be found within its walls, including glasshouses, ornamental buildings and Kew Palace.
Although the gardens as we know them were officially founded in 1840, Kew has hosted exotic gardens and parks for much longer. The area first began to develop at the end of the thirteenth century, when Edward I moved his royal court to a manor house in neighbouring Richmond. Before this time, the site of the gardens – then known as “Cayho”, meaning a landing-place on a river spur – was largely unoccupied, although it would have been used as a ford to cross the Thames.
Although Edward’s presence did cause some development to take place in the surrounding area, the manor house was abandoned before the court could settle at Kew permanently. The royal family returned to Richmond in 1501, when Henry VII built a permanent residence at Richmond Palace. This time, the King’s courtiers did settle at Kew, and many of the large houses found in the area can trace their origins to this period. A royal estate was also founded at Kew for Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry VII and widow of Louis XII of France. Her house, which still stands within the gardens, was constructed around 1522.
An exotic garden known as Kew Park was formed by Lord Capel John of Tewkesbury, and then expanded by Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales, in the eighteenth century. This expansion culminated in the merging of the two royal estates at Kew and Richmond in 1772, which formed the origins of the gardens as we know them today. Around this time, several of Kew’s most famous structures, including the Chinese Pagoda and Kew Palace, were constructed.
The gardens remained a private collection until 1840, when the site was adopted as a national botanical garden as a result of the efforts of the Royal Horticultural Society. Since then, Kew Gardens has become one of the UK’s most celebrated tourist sites.
Its most popular attractions include its treetop canopy walkway, which celebrated its tenth anniversary last year, the Chinese Pagoda and the Hive, a multi-sensory experience designed to show the extraordinary lives of bees. The Temperate House, which re-opened to the public in May 2018 after a five-year, £41 million restoration programme, is also among the most visited sites within the gardens.
Kew Gardens also hosts regular exhibitions, and this summer will host the glass sculptures of celebrated artist Dale Chihuly, including pieces specifically designed for the gardens.
The neighbourhoods surrounding Kew Gardens are regularly voted to be among the most desirable places to live in London. A recent Rightmove survey saw it score highly for the quality of its local services, safety, community and - of course - its green spaces.
The quality of housing in Kew is also of a high standard. The area’s history as a popular retreat for wealthier Londoners means that it features some fine examples of period architecture, including Georgian townhouses and detached Edwardian and Victorian houses.This is part of our series of articles on West London. You can read more here:
|Brentford||Brentford - Great West Quarter|
|Chiswick||Chiswick - Gunnersbury - Turnham Green|
|Ealing||Ealing - Hanwell - Northfields - Perivale - Pitshanger
Pitzhanger Manor - West Ealing
|Hammersmith||Hammersmith - Fulham - Shepherds Bush - Stamford Brook|