Kew Gardens review
It looks like I've picked the wrong day to go to Kew Gardens -- it's raining again. I reckon if I totalled up all the posts in this blog I'd find that at least half of them were written in the rain. I've been trudging across their lawns for the last half-hour, and now my trouser cuffs are drenched in wet and hanging like lead weights around the top of my shoes. But I've decided that I quite like this place anyway. I don't care about the rain today. I'm a big fan of the royals and royal palaces, you see, and I quite like zoos too, and this place has got a bit of both (sort of).
Before I talk about all of that though, let's talk about the price. I used to think that the cost to get inside Kew Gardens was pretty steep; because you're basically just walking around a park, aren't you -- and who wants to stump up a note just to see some green leaves? You'd be better off walking around St. James's Park if all you want is the pretty plants and views. But I have mellowed a bit since then and have decided that it's actually pretty fair. When you take the time to look around the whole place then fifteen quid doesn't seem so bad -- it's not all plants and trees. They do have some interesting attractions too.
It can be quite pleasant walking through the park. A lot of it is very woody. You've got squirrels and birds singing, fountains and coots in the water. Everything is covered in soaking wet dew at the moment, and topped off with a drip of rain. When the trees are all wet they become every shade of green -- deep greens and light, bright greens. It's like turning up the contrast on your telly. There's a few geese walking around too, having a nose in the mud for something to eat. It's a pretty lazy day for birds. I wonder what time they get out of bed? They still look half asleep.
The reason I came here today is because I saw "Time Team" dig it up on the telly (yes, I'm a saddo, I watch "Time Team") -- this is where George III used to live when he went a bit nuts. Unfortunately a large part of the palace has disappeared now, knocked down in the 1820s. The bit that's still standing is the four-story "old palace", or red "Dutch House", plus some kitchens and a few associated buildings dotted around the grounds. They shouldn't really call it a palace though. If you come here expecting one of those then you're going to go home disappointed -- it's more of a posh house in a park.
It's definitely worth a look inside the palace. All of the staff on the door are dressed up in period costume and hand over a little leaflet guide, and then you can walk around the rooms at your leisure. You can see where the king ate his dinner and lounged around, playing cards and taking meetings with his politicians. Most of the rooms are decked out with period furniture too, and they've got some narration playing out the speakers to tell you a little history of the place.
I suppose I'd better say something about the plants, because that's why most people are going to come here. I'm not much into plants myself. I don't do gardening. I mow the grass every few weeks, but that's about it. All I want to know about plants is whether you can eat them or not. But I can certainly see why some people would enjoy walking around Kew Gardens. Apparently they are supposed to have every kind of tree and flower in England here, and they might be right. I didn't count them up, but I am guessing that there are at least a bazillion squillion different plants here. The place is absolutely huge -- they have even got a few bus carts driving people around from place to place. And they need them too, because you could easily spend all day walking around here and still not see it all.
One particularly nice walk was through the "Rhododendron Dell", which has got big huge Rhododendron bushes towering up double-height above your head, all along a winding woodland path. Bright pinks and purples, deep creamy whites and reds too. And a soundtrack of birds playing out the treetops.
I've just come across a fantastic view. It must be a mile long at least, and stretches down a long line of tall trees and firs. And right at the end is a ten-story Chinese Pagoda with overhanging eaves.
I'm sitting on a wet bench by the central lake now -- having a lazy moment with the swans. We are just sitting here together, waiting for the world to end. I am quite similar to a swan, I think. Not in looks -- I don't mean by looks. What I mean is this: we eat, we sleep, and in between we just sit around waiting for something else to happen. We float this way, then that way, and invariably end up at exactly the same place, another day older. And with a few less feathers.
I'm in the Marianne North Gallery now, full of wildlife paintings of plants and trees. It sounds quite boring when I say it like that, but trust me -- you have definitely got to see inside this place. Just poke your nose through the door for two minutes, and you will be glad you did. The walls are stuffed with hundreds of little picture paintings -- and I mean totally stuffed. It's only a little two-room exhibit, but there must be a thousand pictures at least (no joke). They are crammed in six or seven high, so closely tight that you can't get a butter knife between them. It's almost like being inside a greenhouse, surrounded by real jungle plants. Even the backs of the chairs are pasted up with them.
Here is something that is good for the kids (but no so good for adults) -- the Treetop Walkway. I'm sitting at the bottom of it looking up, wondering whether it's safe. I'm trying to decide whether it's going to fall down in the next half-hour (I thought that about The Shard and St. Paul's too). Imagine a load of steel girders and pylons poking out of the ground, rising up to the tops of the trees, with a see-through walkway strung between them. And it's one of those iron lattice walkways too, which you can see through -- all the way down to the woodland floor. This thing is as tall as the trees -- literally -- and you are supposed to climb up the stairs and walk around it. Are they mad?
Okay -- I did it! I'm back down on the ground now and I'm still alive. Thank christ for that. If you're wondering why I didn't take any photographs from the top, then that's because I was too scared to let go of the rail. To be honest, I don't even want to talk about it anymore in case I get a panic attack, so let me just say that it was a) high, and b) it had good views, and leave it at that.
I've entered my favourite bit of the whole place now -- the Palm House. It reminds me of the Rainforest room at London Zoo. As soon as you walk through the door you are hit by the heat. It's warm and humid and full of tropical plants and palm trees. I'm half expecting some monkeys to come swinging through the trees, like they do at the zoo, and see some colourful humming birds flitting around, but of course there are none. It's just a greenhouse full of plants and trees. It's still good though.
The Princess of Wales Conservatory is worth a look on the way out. This is another hot greenhouse, filled with prckly cacti, orchids and ferns. It's got lots of rocks and little water fountains and bird sounds too (I'm not sure if they were real or not -- I might have seen a few sparrows flying around). They've got a big Amazon pond as well, with water lilies and fish about five-feet long -- they were bigger than the ones in the aquarium. See if you can find the little tanks filled with tropical fish, turtles and frogs -- they are very well hidden. They've got a big underwater window too, so you can see all those five-feet fish swimming around.
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