KEW GARDENS

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: AM

The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the bees were buzzing and we were at Kew Gardens, spending time with one of our contributors and now friend, Maria Bell, what a treat, can Saturday mornings get any better than this? Naturally we started off in The Palm House, constructed by Richard Turner in 1844 it was built in order to provide a home for the tropical plants which the Victorian explorers brought back from their adventurous travels. Inside the iron and glass structure is a recreated rainforest, a multilayered living laboratory, palm leaves - which in floriography, a language of flowers dating back to the Victorians - signify victory, success and triumph provided a perfect canopy under which we could bask a while. Divided within the Palm House are the continents of the World such as the Americas and Africa, making it is easy to see the sheer diversity of plants from all the tropical regions of the world. As easy as it is just to get carried away looking at all the lovely plants, it isn't however just about pretty flora and fauna, if you search amongst the plants you will also be able to read about some of the important projects Kew is working on - such as the one where they are helping nine African countries to catalogue their flora, collecting seeds for the millennium seed bank which is so vital for their conservation and restoration projects.

Next we stepped into the Waterlily House, set in another Victorian wrought iron albeit smaller construction, this is an oasis of calm, feast your eyes on the likes of the Madagascar periwinkle, catharanthus roseus, solandra grandiflora, passiflora quadrangularis and of course all the water lilies. Flora and its surrounding disciplines saw a huge shift in importance during the Victorian era, as the explorers brought in the new and exotic plants and flowers into Britain, around 9,000 plants arrived when there had been less than 1,000 during the 1600's. This was understandably an immense source of pride to the British people and with this inundation of flowers, they became not surprisingly a much bigger part of everyday life, making floral decorating extremely important and significant. With a strict etiquette governing social interaction, flowers were used as a way to communicate discretely to one another, with each specific flower delivering a different message, such as the playful hyacinth, the daffodil's unrequited love, the true love of the forget me not or even the love and passion of the tulip.

After a while it was time to sample the Prince of Wales Conservatory with its carnivorous zones, numerous cacti and mangroves, which people use to make boats, medicine, food and wine. They also buffer the shore from storm waves, protecting the coastline and improving water quality - really I had no idea. Wandering around Kew it is not hard to understand why Kew has grown into a global leader in plant and fungal science and an amazing visitor attraction, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. Today it is home to the largest and most diverse collections of living and preserved botanical specimens in the world, which naturally provide a living reference library to the scientists that work at and visit Kew - not surprisingly all profits go to plant conservation worldwide. As one of the world-leading scientific institutions Kew is totally dedicated to describing, grouping and naming plants - without accurate names, understanding and communication about global plant life could eventually descend into expensive chaos and in the case of plants used for food or medicine, potentially threatening lives - it is also committed to discovering new plants as well as conserving endangered ones. The reality is that whilst we get to enjoy the glorious beauty of Kew, the most important scientific work is done behind the scenes, with the gardens playing an essential supportive role, so with your entrance fee you can pride yourself in the fact that your are also helping to further the scientific research at Kew.

After all this it was time for tea and cake in the Orangery, moist and truly scrumptious, totally unnecessary, but after all that walking they made utter sense at the time. If we had been more organised we could have made a picnic as well, which is definitely on our priority list for next time. We then meandered over to the Palace and then the Royal Kitchens. In order to work in the Royal Household, a humble servant was asked to swear three oaths, which constituted as an act of loyalty to the King. With the glorious wafts of cooking from the kitchen from times gone by and actors dressed up in traditional attire and talking to the visitors about how chocolate had come to the Royal kitchen, this authentic experience was truly a highlight - but that is a story for another issue.

With that it was time to call it a day, we were tired, had places to be, having only discovered a fraction of the gardens, plans are already in the making to return and sooner rather than later - nevertheless this time around it had been a perfect place to celebrate life on a glorious spring day in Kew Gardens, walking through the cherry blossom lined paths, their meaning of education was not lost on us, we truly had learned a thing or two, returning home with just a little more wisdom.

JUNE 2017