By the time I’d taken the train to Richmond, walked 3 miles from Richmond Bridge to Kew Bridge along the Thames Path, entered the grounds of Kew Gardens through the Elizabeth Gate, ate a quick lunch in the Orangery, and toured Kew Palace, I set out to visit my 2 favorite parts of the Royal Botanic Gardens in late afternoon and I was running out of time.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is an amalgam of Princess Augusta’s garden and her son George III’s adjacent property, Kew Palace. In 1772, King George put Joseph Banks, who had recently returned from a round-the-world voyage with Captain Cook with a shipload of exotic plant cargo, in charge of the combined property and developed it into one of the leading horticultural centers in the world. The glasshouses were begun after the king donated the property to the nation in 1841.
I made a beeline for the Palm House, the spectacular world-famous Victorian iron and glass structure finished in 1848 to house exotic rain forest specimens that plant-hunters were carrying home to England from the far corners of the globe. Though there are several glasshouses within Kew Gardens, this one is my favorite, as I seem always to gravitate to anywhere there are palms.
The Palm House
The Marianne North Gallery
Long ago I was given a gift by a family friend, a book with the story and botanic art of Marianne North. She was born in 1830 in Hastings and later traveled to the Middle East with her father. After his death she traveled the world alone, painting the flora wherever she went and brought her paintings back to England. Her offer to build a gallery to exhibit her artworks permanently at Kew Gardens was accepted and they've been on display since 1882. She died in 1890 in Alderley, Gloucestershire, a village near the Cotswold Way where I stopped to visit her in the churchyard on one of my early walks.
I’ve visited the Marianne North Gallery within Kew Gardens several times but looked forward to seeing it again, having not been there since it’s extensive renovation in 2008. I had the place to myself and it looked magnificent, her paintings also restored and I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone visiting London with an interest in botany, travel to the Earth’s wild places when just getting there was an accomplishment and to see the building and the paintings that are a gift to the public from the passion of a remarkable Victorian lady. It is utterly unique.
Marianne North in South Africa
It was nearly closing time at Kew Gardens and I made my way to the Victoria Gate exit onto Kew Road. A ten minute walk down Lichfield Road brought me to Kew Gardens Station, one of my favorites in London because it anchors a very pleasant residential neighborhood and, of course, it’s proximity to one of England’s greatest treasures, the gardens.
The entry in my pocket diary in which I keep reminders of my days when I travel says ”…home from Kew Sta. after 4 hours in the gardens. Feet hurt but no matter.”
After I complete the Thames Path, I hope to walk along others of England’s waterways. I’m particularly fond of canals, a more intimate & companionable experience than a grand river, where often strangers actually speak to one another. But I‘m keenly aware that when I finish this walk there may never be another as wonderful. I will enjoy those that come after, I have no doubt, but there will never be another River Thames for me in this life.
More about Marianne North, my hero:
See her paintings:
A map of Kew Gardens:
Next week, I leave the path behind and visit William Morris's Red House.
Find all episodes of ‘PortMoresby in England’ here.