July 11: Kew Gardens Royal Botanic Gardens and Archives

Our visit to Kew Gardens and Archives was one that I looked forward to a lot once I saw it on our syllabus. I used to work in a garden center where I was a cashier, but during slow times I helped take care of the plants. This definitely fostered a love of plants and flowers in me, so I was super excited about out visit!

It’s a bit outside the center of the city, so we had to take a train to get there. From the train, it was also a walk to get to the gardens. Our guide while we were at the archive was Fiona Ainsworth who is the Collection Manager of Library, Art & Archives. She knew a lot about the history of Kew Gardens, the collection itself, and many of the items in the collection. She was a great tour guide who told us lots of interesting tidbits. She showed us around the building taking us to various storage spaces, reading rooms, and other fun spots. I loved seeing the Herbarium,  which is basically a plant library.

The Herbarium in all its glory.

The Herbarium in all its glory.

They keep dried plants and information about the plants in little boxes that go into the white cabinets that are on the left and right sides of the photo. They add 20,000 species every year, which is surprising considering how many plants have already been discovered. It’s crazy to think that there are that many plants out there. This also has to be a very demanding job for the librarian(s) or archivist(s) that handle this. It would require a lot of cataloging, attention to detail, and knowledge of plants to do this job. The job also comes with a few unexpected issues. They have an ongoing problem with pests who like to get into the dried plants and eat them. They told us that they used to paint mercury on the plants to kill the pests, but, obviously, they don’t do this anymore because mercury is poisonous. Their new way to deal with this problem is to freeze the dried plant, which kills any pests currently on the plant before putting the plant away.

The rest of the gardens and archives were just as interesting too. The Gardens were created in 1850, from the private gardens that belonged to the Royal Family. George III joined two gardens into one, which is why it is called Kew Gardens and not Garden. Within their archives, they have 300,000 books and pamphlets, 2,000 illustrations, and 7 million sheets. They also have the largest collection of botanical art in the world. With such a large, old collection, they have a lot of old, rare books. Their oldest book is from 1370, which is certainly the oldest book I have ever heard of! It is about the use of plants for remedies and it is in Latin.

Our guide, Fiona, had set out a selection of interesting books they had within their collection. Whether it was because it was old, rare, or just beautifully illustrated, all of the books that we saw were really neat.

One of the books that we were shown, and it was beautifully illustrated!

One of the books that we were shown, and it was beautifully illustrated!

After we got out of our tour, we saw the gardens, which were incredible. We got a map (a necessity for this garden) and went to our top choices. We saw the Waterlily House, Rose Garden, Magnolias, Azalea Garden, Treetop Walkway, and Pagoda. Even though we seem to have missed peak time for the magnolias and azaleas, the gardens were still stunning.

Outside the Waterlily House, which is just as gorgeous as the inside.

Outside the Waterlily House, which is just as gorgeous as the inside.

The enormous waterlilies!

The enormous waterlilies!

One of the many beautiful roses in the Rose Garden, which is right outside the Waterlily House.

One of the many beautiful roses in the Rose Garden, which is right outside the Waterlily House.

Atop the Treetop Walkway.

Atop the Treetop Walkway.

The most unexpected and thus coolest thing we saw at the Kew Gardens was a random peacock just wandering around.

Random, awesome peacock that we saw right before we left!

Random, awesome peacock!

We were walking to one of the exits when we saw a peacock far off in the distance. Even though we literally ran up to the peacock to see it, the peacock wasn’t scared off, which shows just how inured it is to visitors. It was definitely a fantastic end to a fabulous visit!

 

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