While journeying through London, a quick stopover at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew was a welcome delight. Located on 300 acres, Kew Gardens sit beside the river Thames near Richmond. The gardens are a World Heritage Site with six magnificent glasshouses and are home to a remarkable collection of plants from all over the world including over 14,000 trees. Our group divided up with mine visiting the 19th-century Palm House, the woodland walk, and the tropical Princess of Wales Conservatory among other gardens. We had a wonderful volunteer guide who offered much insight into plant and garden history, science, and highlights of the season.
High points of the visit included the oldest potted plant in the world located in the Palm House. Less than a year ago, the South African cycad was carefully repotted and seems to be thriving in its larger pot. This cycad was just a seedling when it was brought to Kew from the Eastern Cape before our Declaration of Independence. It was moved into the Palm House in 1848 and has grown about 2.5 cm a year.
The Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys), a native of the Philippines, is rapidly disappearing due to forest clearing. The long hanging stems produce turquoise-colored wisteria-like flowers that are showstoppers. It has been growing at Kew for many years but until 1995 had not produced seeds until scientists leaned how to pollinate the flowers.
Continuing on our walk through the Woodland Garden, we traveled through velvety fields of Queen Anne’s Lace or Horse Parsley.
We strolled through lovely fields of azure blue woodland bluebells, native to the British Isles. Interesting, the woodland English bluebell is being slowly replace by the more dominate Spanish bluebell, the variety that we see in Virginia.
We stopped to admire the Dove tree (Davida involucrata) or Handkerchief tree as we call it. Known for its flower heads with a pair of white bracts at the base that function as petals on each bloom and hang beneath the level branches. The flowers are at their best in late May. They flutter in the wind like white doves, giving the tree its English name.
Finally, we ended with the tulip (tulipa batalinii), only 6-8 inches tall, native to Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkestan. It is named for Russian botanist Alexander Batalin (1847-1896), who provided the Kew Gardens with the first bulb in 1888. It is available through Brent and Becky’s Bulbs .