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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

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Kew_gardens_pagoda.jpg
The pagoda at Kew Gardens
The Palm House
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The Palm House

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, usually referred to simply as Kew Gardens, are extensive gardens and botanical glasshouses between Richmond upon Thames and Kew in southwest London.

Contents

History

Kew Gardens originated in the exotic garden at Kew House formed by Lord Capel of Tewkesbury, enlarged and greatly extended by Princess Augusta, the widow of Frederick, Prince of Wales, for whom Sir William Chambers built several garden structures, of which the lofty Chinese pagoda from 1761 remains. George III enriched the gardens, aided by the skill of William Aiton and of Sir Joseph Banks. The old Kew House was demolished in 1802. The "Dutch House" adjoining was purchased by George III in 1781 as a nursery for the royal children. It is a plain brick structure now known as Kew Palace.

In 1840 the gardens were adopted as a national botanical garden. Under Kew's new director, William Hooker, the gardens were increased to 30 ha (75 acres), and the pleasure grounds, or arboretum, extended to 109 ha (270 acres), and later to its current size of 120 ha (300 acres).

The Palm House was built by architect Decimus Burton and iron-maker Richard Turner between 1841 and 1849, and was the first large-scale structural use of wrought iron. The Temperate house, which is twice as large, followed later in the 19th century. It is now the largest Victorian glasshouse in existence.

Kew was the location of the successful effort in the 19th century to propagate rubber trees for cultivation outside South America.

1987 saw the opening of Kew's third major conservatory, the Princess of Wales Conservatory (opened by Princess Diana in commemoration of her predecessor Augusta's associations with Kew) [1] (http://www.kew.org/heritage/people/augusta.html), which houses 10 different climate zones.

In July 2003, the gardens were put on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Kew Gardens today

Kew Gardens is a leading centre of botanical research, a training ground for professional gardeners, and a popular visitor attraction. The gardens are mostly quite informal, with a few more formal areas. There are extensive conservatories, a herbarium, and a library.

Kew is important as a repository of seeds; it has one of the most important seedbanks. With the Harvard University Herbaria, and the Australian National Herbarium, they co-operate in the IPNI database to produce an authoritative source of information on the nomenclature of plants.

Despite often unfavourable growing conditions (atmospheric pollution from London, dry soils and low rainfall) it remains one of the most comprehensive plant collections in Britain. In an attempt to expand the collections away from these unfavourable conditions, Kew has established two out-stations, at Wakehurst Place in Sussex, and (jointly with the Forestry Commission) Bedgebury Pinetum in Kent, the latter specialising in growing conifers.

There is an admission fee for the gardens. The nearest combined rail and London Underground station is Kew Gardens station (District Line and Silverlink) to the north of the gardens, within easy walking distance.

Pagoda

In one of the wildernesses of Kew Gardens stands the Great Pagoda, erected in the year 1762, from a design in imitation of the Chinese Taa. The base is a regular octagon, 49 feet in diameter; and the superstructure is likewise a regular octagon on its plan, and in its elevation composed of 10 prisms, which form the 10 different stories of the building. The lowest of these is 26 feet in diameter, exclusive of the portico which surrounds it, and 18 feet high; the second is 25 feet in diameter, and 17 feet high; and all the rest diminish in diameter and height, in the same arithmetical proportion, to the ninth storey, which is 18 feet in diameter and 10 feet high. The tenth storey is 17 feet in diameter, and, with the covering, 20 feet high, and the finishing on the top is 17 feet high; so that the whole structure, from the base to the top of the fleuron, is 163 feet. Each storey finishes with a projecting roof, after the Chinese manner, covered with plates of varnished iron of different colours, and round each of them is a gallery enclosed with a rail. All the angles of the roof are adorned with large dragons, eighty in number, covered with a kind of thin glass of various colours, which produces a most dazzling reflection; and the whole ornament at the top is double gilt. The walls of the building are composed of very hard bricks; the outside of well-coloured and well-matched greystocks, (bricks,) neatly laid. The staircase is in the centre of the building. The prospect opens as you advance in height; and from the top a very extensive view on all sides is commanded, and, in some directions, upwards of forty miles distant, over a rich and variegated country. The building is not open to the public because it is not safe by modern standards.

Museums and gallery

Near to the Palm House is a building known as "Museum No. 1" which was designed by Decimus Burton and opened in 1857. Its aim was to illustrate mankind's dependence on plants, and it housed the Kew's economic botany collections including tools, ornaments, clothing, food and medicines. The building was refurbished in 1998. The upper two floors are now an education centre and the ground floor houses the "Plants+People" exhibition which highlight the variety of plants around the world and the diverse ways that people use them.

The Marianne North Gallery was purpose built in the 1880s to house the paintings of Marianne North, an MP's daughter who travelled to North and South America and many parts of Asia to paint plants. There are 832 paintings,.

As a result of the Japan 2001 festival, Kew acquired a Japanese wooden house called a minka. It was originally erected in around 1900 in a suburb of Okazaki. Japanese craftsmen reassembled the framework and British builders who had worked on the Globe Theatre added the mud wall panels.

See also

External links

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