Traditionally, summer is the season for visiting gardens: sunflowers fall on a backdrop of dazzling blue skies; drunken bees stagger from flower to flower; the smell of lavender wafts around you as you settle into the long grass and tuck into a home made picnic of fresh lemonade, sandwiches and scones.
Georgie and I decided to visit Kew Gardens in November. And the end of November at that. In fact, we decided to visit in the little gap between the raging autumn colours and the big Christmas at Kew extravaganza.
Wrapped up in our finest knitwear we joined volunteer guide Janet, who led the final ‘Mellow Fruitfulness’ tour of the season. The idea of the tour was to point out the varied and glorious fruits of autumn, all the more necessary just one month before Christmas.
Janet pointed out all sorts of things, from blood red tree stems, to seeds that looked like brains, and pods that looked like dead fingers.
As well as showing us all manner of berries and mushrooms and seeds, Janet also introduced to some other things we might not have spotted on our own.
It’s the Whomping Willow from the Harry Potter films! As you can see, Georgie was pretty gobsmacked to find out that the tree is actually a sweet chestnut, and not a willow at all. You can read more about that here.
After the tour, we defrosted over a hot chocolate and slice of cake before heading to the greenhouses.
We entered the desert to see the cacti…
… we stared at lily pads, wishing we could hop across them.
We swam with the fishes…
… and watched tortoises nuzzle.
We took a quick trip trip to the alpine house to sing Edelweiss amongst the edelweisses and other alpine flowers.
We couldn’t leave Kew without taking in the view from the treetop walkway. And what a walk it was. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I battle with a fear of heights, and try to get around it by forcing myself up towers, bridges and buildings across the world. What I wasn’t expect here was for the walkway to be made of a mesh typically used to make kitchen sieves. We quickly bounced round (literally), enjoying the arboreal show stoppers, before returning to terra firma and the gift shop.
I’m so glad we visited Kew in the off-season. The great beauty of Kew is that it is a botanical gardens, and is carefully planned to ensure that there is something for visitors to see year-round. If we’d visited in the spring or summer, I expect we would have been distracted by more familiar things. Visiting Kew isn’t cheap. I hadn’t been in years purely because I couldn’t justify spending £15+ to visit a garden, and there is no discount for the under 25s as seen elsewhere (plus student tickets are still well over the £10 mark). One problem with visiting in the off season is that you get less bang for your buck: the gardens close at dusk year-round, but the price doesn’t fluctuate to reflect the fact that days are much shorter during the winter. If Kew is serious about getting young(ish) people through its gates, it needs to move with the times and recognise that our generation can’t afford such extravagances alongside renting in London, high food prices, and extortionate travel fares just to get anywhere.
The next day I went back to Kew for a meeting, and was invited to explore the gardens afterwards (sadly I was only armed with my camera phone). So if you want to visit the gardens for free, try to swing an interview there!
For more information about visiting Kew, click here. Kew’s annual Orchid Festival started this weekend and runs until the 9th March.
Where are your favourite places to visit out of season? Do you think more could be done to get younger people through the doors of places like Kew?