Thursday, January 17, 2008

London's Kew Gardens

In relation to my visit to the gardens and palace in Bogor City, Indonesia, I am posting a piece to revisit Kew Gardens, since what made me visit Bogor was the heavy reference to the Royal Botanic Garden of Kew. It is claimed that the architects and designers of both places were the same. Of course this couldn’t have been possible since the whole premises of Kew dates as far back as the mid-1700s.

Kew Garden, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site like Ha Long Bay and our Banaue Rice Terraces, is a far visit from central London. Though it is accessible by trains, there are several train changes involving the tube (
Waterloo and District Line) and finally the British Rails (Silverlink services).

The Princess of Wales Conservatory

In the far reaches of southwest London (even farther than the sleepy borough of Wimbledon), one has to walk a few blocks before reaching the main gate of the 120-hectare premises. On it still stands a Chinese pagoda which was constructed 1761. The grounds also house an almost-exact replica of Gateway of the Messenger of the Nishi Buddhist Temple situated in Kyoto Japan (which is a commemorative structure for the friendship between the UK and Japan).

Kew is a huge botanical garden, research facility and conservatory, as it employs about 700 employees. For the year 2006 alone, it boasted an annual income of 44 million pounds or $ 86.5 million. This is considering the fact that not a lot of foreigners know about Kew Gardens. The admission charge for adults is 12.25 pounds or $24 (Php 980) and is free for concessionaires (minors, students and elderlies).

The highlight seems to be the relatively new Princess of Wales Conservatory (a 20-year old structure specially supported and inaugurated by Princess Diana). The conservatory houses 10 perfectly simulated climatic zones all over the world, made possible by a computer-generated program. There are species endemic to several regions and climatic zones all over the world. I remember an area which had those Sumatran gigantic phallic-looking flowers (the same structures which surround the Monas in Jakarta). Some areas were very moist, some very humid; some even had “fumes” generated by contraptions.

My favorite is the outdoor grounds, with very colorful flowers jutting out of the rolling greens. I also like the magnificent architecture of the Orangery (constructed 1791) which houses a restaurant and the Kew Shop. The Chinese Pagoda and the Japanese Buddhist Temple are amazingly well maintained. There is a North Gallery which houses more than 830 botanical paintings of a lady adventurer who collected plant paintings from all the continents that she visited. Being inside the gallery was like stepping back into time, with antique bookcases and a stately Victorian ambiance.

Bogor Gardens is comparatively more “natural” and the selection of plants are limited to those endemic to Indonesia ; trees everywhere (huge ones in fact) and there are hiking trails that can’t be easy for the elderlies, the children and the handicap. Wheelchairs are available at the Victoria Gate of the Kew. Also, the floral gardens of the Kew are mind-numbingly beautiful and more breathtaking (as do “any” of the Royal Botanic Gardens of London – my personal favorite is the Rose Garden of Regent’s Park).

Giant Water Lilies are being seeded every year.

The Orangery

Chinese Pagoda, era 1761

The Gateway of the Messenger of the Nishi Buddhist Temple

This is the Eye in the Sky!

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