Kew Gardens

Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB. (Open Map)


The Royal Botanic Gardens

Kew Gardens' lush, landscaped beauty represents the pinnacle of Britain's national gardening obsession. From the early 1700s until 1840, when the gardens were given to the nation, these were the grounds for two fine royal residences – the White House and Richmond Lodge.

Early resident Queen Caroline, wife of George II, was very fond of exotic plants brought back by voyaging botanists. In 1759, the renowned 'Capability' Brown was employed by George III to improve on the work here of his predecessors, William Kent and Charles Bridgeman. Thus began the shape of the extraordinary garden that today attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Covering half a square mile, Kew feels surprisingly big – pick up a map at the ticket office and follow the handy signs. For the anniversary, TV celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin is creating a new garden by the main gate; there will also be new plantings of British orchids and a Thames Valley native, wild clary. But head straight for the 19th-century greenhouses, filled to the roof with plants – some of which have been here as long as the huge glass structures themselves. The sultry Palm House holds tropical plants: palms, bamboo,tamarind, mango and fig trees, not to mention fragrant hibiscus and frangipani. Downstairs, the Marine Display isn't always open – but it has seahorses.) The Temperate House features Pendiculata sanderina, the Holy Grail for orchid hunters, with petals some three feet long. Also of note is the Princess of Wales Conservatory, divided into ten climate zones.