Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens, Richmond upon Thames

The Royal Botanic Gardens occupy the north-western part of the Kew peninsula, across the Thames from Brentford

Hidden London: Kew Gardens, Palm House, by Sergei Gussev

Kew Gar­dens are a con­ver­gence of three 17th-cen­tu­ry projects: the Dutch House and the White House and their grounds, and the north­ward expan­sion of the roy­al gar­dens of Rich­mond upon Thames.

Over the first three decades of the 18th cen­tu­ry, and espe­cial­ly dur­ing the reign of George II, sev­er­al prop­er­ties in Kew were acquired or built for mem­bers of the roy­al house­hold either as per­ma­nent res­i­dences or places of leisure.

Kew Palace
Kew Palace

The Dutch House became Kew Palace, while the White House was rebuilt as the home of Fred­er­ick, Prince of Wales and his wife Princess Augus­ta. Queen Car­o­line appoint­ed Charles Bridge­man and William Kent to embell­ish the land­scape and add dec­o­ra­tive build­ings and most of their work was done in the ear­ly 1730s.

The octag­o­nal ten-storey pago­da was built in 1762 as a sur­prise for Princess Augus­ta, the Dowa­ger Princess of Wales, and Capa­bil­i­ty Brown remod­elled the gar­dens of Rich­mond (for­mer­ly Ormonde) Lodge for George III and Queen Char­lotte in 1765, but the lodge itself was demol­ished in the fol­low­ing decade.

Queen Char­lotte is said to have designed the cot­tage that was built at the edge of the Old Deer Park in the ear­ly 1770s. At this time, Joseph Banks was made direc­tor of the gar­dens and set about import­ing, cul­ti­vat­ing and then re-export­ing con­sign­ments of exot­ic plants from Britain’s colonies abroad. Banks set up satel­lite botan­i­cal gar­dens as far afield as St Vin­cent in the West Indies and Madras in India.

In 1802 the var­i­ous gar­dens of Kew were unit­ed (and the White House was demol­ished) and they were adopt­ed as a nation­al botan­i­cal gar­den in 1841. The Vic­to­ri­an direc­tors enhanced Kew’s role by intro­duc­ing bro­ker­age facil­i­ties for vital com­modi­ties like tea, cof­fee, rub­ber, qui­nine and cot­ton, while resist­ing attempts to turn the gar­dens from a sci­en­tif­ic estab­lish­ment into a plea­sure park.

Mag­nif­i­cent new build­ings were erect­ed for the cul­ti­va­tion of plants requir­ing dif­fer­ent cli­mat­ic con­di­tions, includ­ing the Win­ter Gar­den (now the Tem­per­ate House) and the Palm House, which is shown in the pho­to at the top of this arti­cle.* In 1857 Muse­um No.1 opened on the east­ern side of the Palm House pond. Suc­ces­sive new build­ings have since but­tressed Kew’s sta­tus as world cen­tre of botan­i­cal research, as well as a breath­tak­ing spec­ta­cle.

In 2003 UNESCO declared Kew a world her­itage site, in recog­ni­tion of its ‘unique cul­tur­al land­scape’. With more than 1.6 mil­lion admis­sions a year, the gar­dens are as pop­u­lar an attrac­tion as West­min­ster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathe­dral.

George III was sequestered at Kew Palace during his episodes of ‘madness’.

Postcode area: Richmond TW9
Station: London Overground (North London line) and District line (zones 3 and 4)
Further reading: Katherine Price, Kew Guide, Royal Botanic Gardens, 2014
and Lynn Parker and Kiri Ross-Jones, The Story of Kew Gardens In Photographs, Arcturus, 2013
Website: Royal Botanic Gardens


The picture of the Palm House at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Sergei Gussev, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence. The picture of Kew Palace is reformatted from an original photograph, copyright kewfriend, formerly at Flickr, where it was made available under the Attribution-No Derivatives licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of those licences.