Kew Gardens in London

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The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, usually referred to as Kew Gardens, is 121 hectares of gardens and botanical glasshouses between Richmond and Kew in southwest London, England. "The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew" and the brand name "Kew" are also used as umbrella terms for the institution that runs both the gardens at Kew and Wakehurst Place gardens in Sussex. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is an internationally important botanical research and education institution with 700 staff and an income of for the year ended 2008, as well as a visitor attraction receiving almost visits in that year. Created in 1759, the gardens celebrated their 250th anniversary in 2009.

The Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is responsible for the world's largest collection of living plants. The organisation employs more than 650 scientists and other staff. The living collections include more than 30,000 different kinds of plants, while the herbarium, which is one of the largest in the world, has over preserved plant specimens. The library contains more than 750,000 volumes, and the illustrations collection contains more than 175,000 prints and drawings of plants. The Kew site includes four Grade I listed buildings and 36 Grade II listed structures in an internationally significant landscape.


Kew Gardens originated in the exotic garden at Kew Park formed by Lord Capel John of Tewkesbury. It was enlarged and extended by Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales, 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.

Some of the early plants came from the walled garden established by William Coys at Stubbers in North Ockendon. The collections grew somewhat haphazardly until the appointment of the first collector, Francis Masson, in 1771. 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 first curator was John Smith.

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.

In February 1913 the Tea House was burnt down by suffragettes Olive Wharry and Lilian Lenton during a series of arson attacks in London.

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

Economic Botany

The Sustainable Uses of Plants group (formerly the Centre for Economic Botany), focus on the uses of plants in the United Kingdom and the world's arid and semi-arid zones. The Centre is also responsible for curation of the Economic Botany Collection, which contains more than 90,000 botanical raw materials and ethnographic artefacts, some of which are on display in the Plants + People exhibit in Museum No. 1. The Centre is now located in the Jodrell Laboratory.

Jodrell Laboratory

The original Jodrell laboratory, named after Mr T.J. Phillips Jodrell who funded it was established in 1877 and consisted of four research rooms and an office. Originally research was conducted into plant physiology but this was gradually superseded by botanical research. In 1934 an artists studio was added together with a photographic darkroom highlighting the importance of botanical illustration. In 1965, following increasing overcrowding a new building was constructed and research expanded into seed collection for plant conservation. The biochemistry section also expanded to facilitate research into secondary compounds that could be derived from plants for medicinal purposes. In 1994 the centre was expanded again, tripling in size and a decade later it was further expanded by the addition of the Wolfson Wing.

The compost heap is in an area of the gardens not accessible to the general public, but a viewing platform has been erected to allow visitors to observe the heap as it goes through its cycle. The conservatory houses ten computer-controlled micro-climatic zones, with the bulk of the greenhouse volume composed of Dry Tropics and Wet Tropics plants. Significant numbers of orchids, water lilies, cacti, lithops, carnivorous plants and bromeliads are housed in the various zones. The cactus collection also extends outside the conservatory where some hardier species can be found.

With an area of 4499 square meters the conservatory is designed to minimise the amount of energy taken to run it and to this end the cooler zones are grouped around the outside with the more tropical zones in the central area where heat is conserved. The glass roof extends down to the ground which give the conservatory a distinctive appearance and helps to maximise the use of the sun's energy.

During the construction of the conservatory a time capsule was buried containing the seeds of basic crops and endangered plant species and key publications on conservation.


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 series.


Public transport

The nearest combined rail and London Underground station is Kew Gardens (District Line and London Overground) to the east of the gardens. To the north, Kew Bridge railway station is about 10–15 minutes from the main entrance, with trains to Clapham Junction and Waterloo. The two bus routes suitable for the gardens are 65 and 391.

Cycle and Car

There are cycle racks located just inside the Victoria Gate, Main Gate and Brentford Gate entrances to the park. For those arriving by car there is a 300-space car park outside Brentford Gate.

See also

  • Joseph Dalton Hooker who succeeded his father as director in 1865.
  • The Great Plant Hunt – a primary school science initiative created by Kew Gardens, commissioned and funded by the Wellcome Trust
  • Kew Constabulary
  • Kew Bulletin

External links