Monday, May 25, 2015

London: Our trip ends with a visit to colourful Kew Gardens

Our last day in London was quite warm so we decided to spend it outdoors at Kew Gardens. Yet another ride stuffed into the underground and we had arrived at Kew. It was a lovely spot. Right away we had a coffee in the old station restaurant and bar before walking along a picturesque street of stately homes to Kew.

We were immediately captivated by the vast area of blue and pink forget-me-nots outside the huge palm house. It was the first large-scale structural use of wrought iron and is considered  the world's most important surviving Victorian glass and iron structure. The panes of glass are all hand-blown.

It was really pleasant walking through the gardens, even walking on the grass. We entered the steamy, hot Princess of Wales Conservatory. It houses ten computer-controlled micro-climatic zones, with the bulk of the greenhouse volume composed of Dry Tropics and Wet Tropics plants. Large numbers of colourful orchids, water lilies, cacti, carnivorous plants and bromeliads are housed in the various zones.

From here we visited the water lily house. It had a variety of different coloured water lilies mixed with huge, round, green lily pads that were quite magnificent. These were my favourites.

The Orangery, which was built in the 1700s, has gone through several metamorphoses. Today it is a large cafeteria-style restaurant. The menu and the food looked quite good. I had some leek and Stilton soup and a healthy quinoa and veg salad. There was only one catch, there was nowhere to sit. It was a beautiful Saturday in May and the place was mobbed. I did a Mr. Root and asked if I could sit at one end of a table that had some empty chairs. For those of you who don't know Mr. And Mrs. Root were a couple who travelled to various places in Italy and Spain and quite unabashedly plonked themselves in people's houses or restaurants without following the cultural norms. Now we had a seat but when I went to get cutlery, all I found was a knife. When I asked one of the people who seemed to be looking after this area for a spoon and some forks, she informed me that all the cutlery was in the dishwasher. This didn't auger well for my soup. Finally, it dawned on her that there were lots more people with no cutlery and she produced some plastic cutlery. I can't imagine what the place must be like in the summer. Anyway, the soup was very good. 

In past times lots of royals have stayed in and around Kew. Kew Palace is the smallest of the British royal palaces. It was built by a Dutch merchant around 1631, and later purchased by George III. The construction method is known as Flemish bond and involves laying the bricks with long and short sides alternating. This and the gabled front give the construction a Dutch appearance. In fact you could see how the place was built as several of the walls were taken back to the original bare bones. It was interesting seeing the palace kitchens and storerooms.

To the rear of the building is the "Queen's Garden" which includes a collection of plants believed to have medicinal qualities. Only plants that were known in England during the 17th century are grown in the garden.

Walking among the red and white blooms of chestnuts and all the various shades of the trees was most pleasant. Eventually, we found a riot of colours where the rhododendrons and azaleas were in full bloom.

There was lots more to see at Kew but sadly we had to wend our way back to the station and London. If we had more time we would have taken the boat back to Westminster.

We did have time for tea and cake and our final walk through the back streets of Knightsbridge with all the elegant homes and little, astronomically expensive boutiques before boarding the Gatwick Express. Since it would be very late before we arrived home, we made time for a Jamie Oliver sausage roll before boarding our plane. It was a delicious way to end our trip.  

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