In the summer of 2006, on the way to our biannual holiday in Germany, my sons and I took a little side trip to London (England). Our objectives were to visit an old friend, sample some serious South Asian food (Pakistaaaniiiii!!!), check out the Dinosaur Expo at the Natural History Museum, and, of course, A Day at Kew.


The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are one of the oldest and largest of their kind on the planet, and there’s no other botanical garden with such an impressive historical cast of influential characters - Banks, Hooker, Low, Darwin, Wallace and all the rest of the gang have all left their mark on Kew.


The Faces


The Names


Kew is an immense place. Two square kilometers packed with green goodies, of which we managed to see about a fourth that day. If you really want to experience it all, you should schedule at least four days, I'd reckon. We did get to enjoy the most important things, though – Climbers and Creepers (important for children, that is); dozens of magnificent and breath-taking trees, many of which have already seen more than four hundred winters; and of course the large greenhouses. There are three of them: the tropical Palm House and the subtropical Temperate House are both immense Victorian designs, and you can even check out the plants from above, by way of a lofty skywalk right below the roof.


Palm House


Temperate House, front


Temperate House, rear


Temperate House, Evolution Wing


Twoton junior 1 & 2, all excited about those fascinating historical facts


For scale: the fellow in the blue hardhat sticking out from the foliage is standing on a mobile platform eight feet aboveground.


The third of the large glasshouses, the Princess of Wales Conservatory, is a technological marvel built in the Eighties to replace 26 smaller and obsolete greenhouses. The PWC provides a dozen different and fully computer-controlled climes under one roof (or many roofs, if you will): cool, hot, wet and dry tropics, as well as desert, and some other stuff I forgot.





This is also where you find the carnivorous plants. This lady here is one of many biology students from the US volunteering at Kew for the summer. Here we see her lovingly tending to a whole bunch of hyoooge Sarracenias.


They have lots more Sarras, Drosera, Helis, Pings etc. in a separate room inside, but that room was closed for maintenance that day (as everything always is when you fly in from half around the globe and have only one day to see it)

Alas! upon entering the Conservatory, I didn’t find any Nepenthes at first, although the staff kept insisting that they did indeed have some. After tromping past the Nepenthes display for the umpteenth time without noticing them, my sons finally pointed out a large green pitcher, in the vicinity of which we then discovered about twenty more tropical pitcher plants.

Unfortunately, compared to the world-class collection they keep backstage (I missed their Open Day by a week! ), the Nepenthes in the public display area there are strictly for civilians. Granted, a few of them were really large, but they all seemed to lack sufficient light, as most pitchers were uniformly green.

But that didn't spoil our day, since the rest of the conservatorium certainly made up for this minor glitch.


Blasphemous as it might seem, for the most interesting Nepenthes on display at Kew you need to head over to the educational pavilion “Climbers and Creepers”, where children can learn interesting facts about the Plant Kingdom, e.g. the Fiendish Ways of Fly-Eating Foliage. And there, right in the middle between the pitcher slide, the flytrap game and that sticky-doohicky meant to emulate glue traps, lo and behold! you'll find a glass case containing a bunch of very nice-looking (if unidentified) Nepenthes hybrids.

Two more curiosities we happened to chance upon at Kew that day were the Wollemi Pine, a prehistoric conifer discovered in Australia a few years ago, and whose great-great-great-etc.-parents used to serve as dinner for various herbivorous dinosaurs;

...and The Flagpole. When was the last time you saw a 272-foot solid piece of wood?


Oh yes, they also have the biggest herbarium in the solar system. Not for the unwashed gardening masses, though – admission by appointment only.


What an experience! Can't wait to visit again - even if the door's twelve quid a pop; even if the restaurant prices make you wish you'd brought a sack lunch; and even if you can go bankrupt in no time at their well-stocked gift shop-cum-bookstore!


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