Every weekend I try to do something a bit different in London. I’ve lived here almost three years having moved for work from Essex, and in the early days it was easy to just let the weekend become engulfed by hangovers, lounging around and not doing much at all. Don’t get me wrong, I do do this sometimes, but each weekend I try and do something a little bit different too. Shopping in a different part of London, visiting a new food market, seeing a new exhibition. There’s so much to do in London, it’s very easy to become a tourist in your own city.
On what felt like the first day of Spring (when you can get away with not wearing a coat you’re onto a winner), we decided a trip to Kew Gardens was needed. I’ve wanted to visit for a long while, but either the weather hasn’t been right or I haven’t felt in the mood to get all the way West. With the weather on our side, the hour’s journey across town didn’t seem too bad. In reality if you’re travelling anywhere within London, you’re usually expecting just under an hour, so in all it wasn’t too far. If you love plants as much as I do, it’s worth it.
On arrival at Kew Gardens station (end of the District Line), I knew this was my kind of place. It was quiet, homes were beautiful, and nearby shops sold plants by the bucket load. It didn’t feel like London. I find a lot of places are like this. You’d be surprised how peaceful London can be.
Just a short walk from the station down a tree lined road, you’ll find the entrance to Kew. I’d suggest booking online if you can as you save a couple of quid, but we paid £15 on the door for an adult ticket. Considering how big the place is, it’s worth the money.
Walking across the green by a huge lake I was quick to spot the Palm House, which resembles a giant avery like something out of Jurassic Park. It was the place I was most excited about seeing. As you step inside you’re engulfed by a wave of humidity, essential to keep the temperatures level for be plants. Looking up and you won’t have seen anything quite like it. Species of palms, trees and plants weave through the tropical conservatory. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.
To get a little steamier, and see even better views of the Palm House, two small white twisting staircases either end take you up and down. Up to the very very top. There you can walk around the top of the conservatory and look down at the jungle below. Be warned though, it’s sweaty. The feeling when leaving the Palm House was that of an exasperated gasp of breath as you’re reintroduced to normal UK temperatures. It was still my favourite part of the whole gardens. You can’t beat that peaceful stillness.
The newest installation is The Hive. Designed as a multi sensory experience it’s such a detailed piece of work, connecting to senses from every angle and showcasing the amazing life of bees. At the bottom of the installation it encourages you to feel the sound waves of the hive, but through vibrations in your mouth. Switching off your other sense, using a stick (this is much easier to explain if you see the diagram) which you place in your mouth, when you connect to the installation, you hear bees working through the vibrations.
The multi award-winning Hive, which has been a part of Kew since 2016, was inspired by scientific research into the health of honeybees. It is a visual symbol of the pollinators’ role in feeding the planet and the challenges facing bees today. It was fascinating, and all ages seemed mesmerised.
Next we made our way to The Princess of Wales conservatory with multi rooms, filled with very different plant life. The temperature of each room was adapted to the conditions needed by those particular plants. These included a cacti and succulent room, a pond with lily pads and a beautiful sky installation of flying orchards.
GLUTEN FREE FOOD
Now it’s about time I touch on the food, seeing as it would be wrong not to! Me being me had to suss out what was available. A park picnic from home was not gonna cut it. I wanted to see what Kew had to offer for allergies.
I have some mixed feedback. I did get to eat, in fact I had a very nice lunch, but it wasn’t so simply. We headed The Orangery, having not pre planned lunch. It was more, “I’m hungry, oh look let’s go there,” type vibe. The food looked gorgeous but panic set in as it was, a little bit ‘cross contamination city!’ You know the feeling. I went round in circles trying to find something labelled but was struggling. I eventually came across a gluten free brownie (actually much better tasting than most typical GF brownies) and a GF biscuit. The were covered with a film and slightly elevated, away from the standard cakes, which set my heart rate back to normal.
I managed to find a member of staff to explain. She said I could have the roast dinner without the gravy and elements to elements to the salad bar. Not great when the salad was self service and roast served in the open amongst yorkshire puddings. She could sense my concern, and said a chef could prepare me gluten free salad in the kitchen, away from double- dipped spoons. It was lovely, and filled with spicy chickpeas, carrot, cucumber and pomegranate seeds. It was a nice touch and really kind of her.
Going forward for Kew, I’d suggest they make up some gluten free sandwiches with GF bread, and clearly label that GF salads can be made up on request, should you wish. The food was really nice, but just not as smooth running an experience as it could have been. It may be best to come prepared with a few snacks just in case, but don’t let this hinder your visit. Kew is beautiful with or without gluten free food.
TAP ON THE LINE
We finished our day in the local Fuller’s pub by the station, Tap On The Line. It may sound biased, but I really do love Fullers’ pubs. When first working for clients London Pride and Frontier within my day job in advertising I never realised how unique and interesting each of their pubs could be.
Tap On The Line just by Kew Gardens station, was great for a quick drink or two after our day out. The whole pub is filled with botanicals and a hell of a lot of character, and so perfect after a day at Kew. I only wish we’d have hung on and enjoyed a pub lunch, which we looked on at so enviously as plates were brought out under our noses.
One thing we forgot to do was the Tree Top Walk, which I’m a little bit gutted about! Because of this, and because I need the excuse to return, I feel one visit to Kew isn’t enough, and as I write this, am already planning to go back again. Perhaps next time I’ll swing by the Tap for some pub lunch.