Kew Gardens Part 3 - Glasshouses and Garden Art

On July 4, it seems only appropriate to visit the gardens of the palace at Kew - the favorite retreat of King George III, that dastardly king of England who opposed those ornery colonists who wouldn't pay their taxes. In case you are unsure: They won.

Kew Palace
Well - we still don't like paying taxes, though now we don't have the British to blame. 

I have more interesting photos to share of the palace, but maybe it's time to return to the garden.

Or at least to a glasshouse, one of many at Kew - I'll have to go back to see the state-of-the-art modern ones for sure, like the Davies Alpine House, and the other famous Victorian one, the Palm House.

My school chum and I (with fish purse), outside the Temperate House
The Temperate House houses plants, not surprisingly, from temperate zones, arranged by geographical area: South Africa, Australasia, the Americas, New Zealand, Lord Howe Island (?where?) and Asia.

The temperate zones are the bands that lie "between the frozen poles and the dripping tropics." They include rainforest, mountain, oceanic island, and savannah habitats, and many others. Temperate climates have winters and summers of approximately equal length, without extremes of temperature or precipitation. They need protection from the colder British climate - hence the glasshouse.

My greenhouse is 140 square feet in size - 10X14. For my needs - huge! and I count myself lucky. The Temperate house is over 16,000 square feet!! - or 4,880 square meters.

Two of the five sections of the glasshouse.
Begun in 1860, work finally finished in 1898, after various cost overruns and hold-ups. It was designed by Decimus Burton and has five sections, a large central rectangular section flanked by a pair of hexagons and a pair of relatively smaller rectangles. 

The central section, and flanking sections on one side.

The Victorians knew how to do "ornate!"

The windows were framed with wood, to help keep things warm in winter. There are also radiators. 

The statue looks like he wants to go with the walkers, doesn't he?  

It was designed for good airflow - there's a central walkway right through.

I have a soft spot for Victorian glass and ironwork, and this is the world's largest surviving Victorian glass structure.

I also have a soft spot for spiral staircases.

The stairs lead to an upper gallery.

Where I took this photo of my chum.

And looked down on a fishpond.

Looking up at the garden's rarest plant! 
At least I think this is the one shown in the brochure. If so, it is a cycad, Encephalartos woodii, presented to Kew by the Natal National Park. It's extinct in the wild. This one is a lone male.

Artwork by David Nash is scattered throughout the glasshouse - and elsewhere in Kew - from June 2012 through April 2013. I'm glad I got to see it, though I have a hard time with modern art, I confess.
This one is pretty. It's large - sculpted from one big tree trunk of mizunara wood, a Japanese oak. But why is it so famous and held in such high regard? What makes it more special than - say - burl bowls I see in local art galleries? I feel very doltish when confronted with these pieces.

"Mizunara Bowl" (1994) by David Nash
Here's what the souvenir guide says about the above and other works, some of which I show below.
Many of Nash's sculptures allude to man's dependence on nature - and specifically wood - for basic survival tools and utensils. The bowl shape is one example; another is ladders and steps... These works suggest reach and expansion, and juxtapose with pieces like Seed - a contained ball with potential to roll, move, or, as a seed, to grow. Comet Ball combines these forms, the charred ball at the base grounds the form, but the eye wanders upwards along the uncharted tail, reaching towards the sky...
I'm tempted to say that hot air also reaches towards the sky. But then I feel like a major dolt.

Below are some of the works in the Temperate House. Note: One of these works is not like the others...!


"Comet Ball"

"Red and Black Dome"

"Big Tongue"

"Napa Ladders" (made in California)

"Shepherd" by John Cheere (1760s)



There were, of course, a lot of interesting plants in the house.

An interesting plant.
And pretty flowers.

A pretty flower.
But I didn't absorb any detail whatsoever. There was so much to see in the Temperate house, so many plants in each area - I became glazed over, mentally - as well as literally! Kaveh McGuire commented on my second Kew post: "I spent 3 months there and saw just a small percentage of the gardens." So I don't feel so bad! In fact - I feel pretty great, just remembering the tremendous amount we enjoyed during our day out. Enough for three more posts - but maybe I should come home to my garden and to topics restorational - at least for a while.


You bring back some warm memories from my visit in 1986. Glad to see she's been taken good card of over the years. Saw the victorian huge water lilies in bloom. I'm a quad now but my best friend has sworn to get me back for Chelsea and he has the will and resources to do just that. So I'll see Kew again
big leaves and a white powderpuff, might be our Boophane?
Andrew said…
Hope you get to see more great English gardens.
Kew is brilliant but there are some real 'gems' to be found elsewhere, some attached to Plant Nurseries and some in private hands.
If you visit during the summer months there are plenty of private gardens open for viewing under the charity based NGS (National Gardens Scheme)
Sometimes these gardens open in clusters so you can get to see a few in one afternoon.