An autumn trip to Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens

GTO‘s News Writer Chris Broughton recently made a well overdue autumn trip to Kew’s Botanic Gardens. Having noted the range of developments here over the past couple of years while covering them for GTO’s UK and Garden News pages, it occurred to him that he’d never actually visited – a situation he resolved to put right. Accompanied by his daughter Ivy, plus a friend and her two girls, he finally made it on the last Sunday of September. A day of sunshine and showers, it was perfect for putting the site through its paces.

Like his daughter Ivy, Chris is a big fan of American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, whose brightly-coloured, fantastical sculptures had been on show throughout the grounds and inside some of the glasshouses throughout the spring and summer, and which looked especially otherworldly in the early autumn light. This is the second time Chihuly has exhibited at Kew and Chris only hopes the artist goes for a hat-trick before another 13 years have passed, though there’s far too much to see in a single day even without his intervention and it’s easy to overlook some of the less ostentatious features as a result. The newly-opened Agius Evolution Garden is a case in point – an area behind the Woodland Garden that will no doubt come into its own as it becomes more established.

As his young charges ranged in age from seven to 11, the Children’s Garden – another recent addition – was a particularly big hit. Providing plenty of cover during an extended period of heavy rain, this area is a genuine wonderland, with colourful tunnels and windmills, tubular slides and an impressive suspended wooden walkway radiating out from an enormous oak tree. The girls were particularly intrigued by an area with fresh water pumps, allowing them to use wooden dams to create their own watercourses.

What with the two hours spent here and another 90 minutes in the Princess of Wales Conservatory where the girls enjoyed spotting lizards hidden in the foliage and having their fingers nibbled by attentive fish, there was barely time to visit the two recently-refurbished areas Chris was keenest to see -the Temperate House and the Pagoda, which completed a £5 million restoration last year.

The former was closing early as the group arrived to allow a film crew to work undisturbed, but they were able to take in the gleaming new paintwork, the particularly impressive chain of Chihuly glass flowers hanging from the ceiling as a centrepiece and imagine the majestic view from the high walkways. The pagoda, too, had closed when Chris arrived, but its new dragons, resplendent in gold and green, looked particularly fearsome silhouetted against the setting sun. He’ll be back as soon as possible and his friend, who lives nearby, was so impressed she bought an annual ticket and intends to visit every week. Even if she does, Chris thinks she’ll still be hard-pressed to experience everything Kew has to offer – if you’re considering a trip, he advises you to plan thoroughly and pick up a spare map!

Groups of 15 or more benefit from discounts and GTOs go free.