The Temperate House at Kew

The last time I was at Kew the Temperate House was still being renovated. It reopened in July after a five year restoration project.

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Like The Palm House, it was designed by Decimus Burton and opened to the public in 1863. The Temperate House is twice the size of its neighbour and is the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world.

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As the temperate zone is where most of the world's population lives many of the plants here face the combined threats from climate change and human population growth.

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Indeed The Temperate House contains the only known living specimens of some plants. Like Encephalartos woodii, a cycad from South Africa. Only one has been found in the wild and an offshoot was sent to Kew in 1899. It is a male and no females have ever been found.

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The Temperate House is divided into zones representing Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Asia, Africa, the Himalayas and 16 islands. Many of the species housed represent human, animal and insect food, garden plants, plants with cultural uses, plants used in building, manufacturing and medicine. Kew safeguards their future by banking the seed at its Millennium Seed Bank in West Sussex.

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The light in The Temperate House is beautiful. On a sunny day the shadows from the structure run across the leaves and paving. As the plants grow this will probably become less of a feature. For now though it looks very modern, if only more conservatories looked a bit like this.

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As part of the renovation there has been an effort to make the glasshouse more of an experience than just a scientific collection, with a waterfall and a dramatic collection of tree ferns running along a dry riverbed.

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The Temperate House contains plants not quite hardy enough to survive an English winter. However, I think with the right care and location in your garden, in London you might risk planting tree ferns. The false banana, Ensete ventricosum below, and exotic gingerlilies, would defintely need to be brought inside though. That's fine if you've got somewhere suitable to house it, otherwise best leave it to Monty Don.

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To truly appreciate the splendour of the architecture you can climb the spiral stairs to the gallery and get a view of the central area.

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I look forward to seeing how the planting develops. It's almost worth the £17 entry fee to Kew Gardens on its own.

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The Temperate House - https://www.kew.org/kew-gardens/attractions/temperate-house

Lukesland Gardens

I feel very lucky to have friends with friends with amazing gardens. Last weekend I stayed with John and Lorna Howell, owners of Lukesland in Devon.

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The garden covers around 26 acres of woodland, streams, arboreta (there's more than one), rhododendrons, azaleas, wild flowers and a kitchen garden.

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The garden was started by the Matthews family in the 1860s, followed by the McAndrews in the 1870s, but has been tended to and developed by the Howell family since the 1930s.

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The garden has become known for some of its "Champion" trees, which means they are the oldest, tallest or with the largest girth in the county or country. The high level of rainfall, acidic soil and mildish climate makes it ideal for Camellias, Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Magnolias.

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.I was told the Rhododendrons were past their best by the end of May but they still looked pretty good to me. However, this is prime Azalea flowering time, the reflections in some of the ponds were particularly stunning, better than the Isabella Plantation I think.

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For me the streams and ponds are the highlight of the gardens. Addicombe Brook tumbles through the garden over cascades and Dartmoor granite rocks. It's not without hazard though as floods in recent years have washed away paths, bridges and sculpture and silted up ponds. They've been rebuilt and restored and you'd never know there'd been such devastation.

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The wild flowers are also particularly attractive. There are bluebells in the Beech wood and in the Pinetum where they flower in the open with grasses, and along the stream with Red Campion.

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The dampness means plants like Iris sibirica, asiatic Primulas, Gunnera and ferns thrive here, as well as some of the trees like the giant coastal Redwoods from the USA.

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Lukesland is particularly well known for its three large Davidia involucrata, also known as the Hankerchief Tree, which were flowering during my visit. Unfortunately none of my photos could do them justice but if you're in the area in late spring seeing them is worth a visit on their own.

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Although the tea room was busy (and yes I can recommend all the cakes as I tried most of them whilst serving the tea...) the gardens are so large it's easy to find a quiet spot to yourself.

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One of the advantages of staying overnight is the opportunity to get up at the crack of dawn and wander around on your own, although the weather conspired against me and I didn't quite get the mist and low sunlight I was hoping for. Next time maybe...

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The gardens are only open in the spring and then again in the autumn as the foliage of the Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Acers is stunning I'm told.

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This garden is maintained by Lorna and John, John's mother Rosemary (who runs the guided tours) and three very part-time gardeners. Hats off to them all.

Lukesland - http://www.lukesland.co.uk/Index.htm

You can rent a cottage in the grounds - https://www.helpfulholidays.co.uk/cottage/Devon-East-Anstey/The-Clock-House-976251.html

Many thanks to John and Lorna and Rosemary and Desna (and Rob..).

 

 

The Palm House at Kew

A full six days after getting off the plane from Barbados I found myself in the tropical Palm House at Kew Gardens. It's some years since I've been in here and now with a little more knowledge (but not much more) I enjoyed the heat and atmosphere, complete with song birds (well, a robin).

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The Grade I listed Palm House was built in 1844, designed not by Joseph Paxton as I'd always thought, but by Decimus Burton. It was built specifically for tropical plants brought back by Victorian plant hunters. The glasshouse is thought to resemble the upturned hull of a ship and indeed some ship-building techniques were used in its construction.

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"The Palm House recreates a rainforest climate, a living laboratory supporting a diversity of plants from the tropical regions of the world, all under one roof. The plantings simulate this multilayered habitat, with canopy palms and other trees, climbers and epiphytes down to the shorter understorey plants and dwarf palms. Many plants in this collection are endangered in the wild, some even extinct. There are many species here studied by Kew scientists for research into medicines."

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There are plants aplenty here that grow in the Caribbean - bananas, plantains, hibiscus, gingers, more palms than you can shake a stick at, plus coconuts and sugar cane. And from the far east, orchids and spices - pepper, vanilla, and the "Marmite" plant - bamboo. From Australia there are macadamias, from South America Brazil nuts.

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As a garden designer the main attraction of tropical plants is their sheer exhuberance - the rate at which they grow due to high levels of light and moisture, the varied size, shape and texture of their foliage and (usually, though not at this time of year in this country it seems) the bright colours of their flowers.

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The quality of light, particularly how bright sunshine (on a March day) filters through the foliage is rather fab, creating strong archtectural shadows and a green, almost underwater atmosphere.

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The planting wouldn't appear anywhere as spectacular were it not for the architecture of the Palm House itself. It may look like an upturned hull from the outside but on the inside there's more than a whiff of Paddington Station.

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The soaring arches and seemingly impossibly narrow ribs of wrought iron create and ornate backdrop to the plants.

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And, as many people know, I can't resist a bit of rust, patina and condensation. The maintenance of the building must be a costly and time-consuming exercise. Is this why the entrance fee to Kew Gardens is £17?

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Although the original design was reined in somewhat there are the customary Victorian flourishes showcasing what could be achieved for this new method of manufacturing iron.

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The curved ceilings are designed to capture the maximum levels of sunshine. Only later was it realised that many tropical plants prefer shade and dappled light so manganese oxide-free glass, tinted green with copper oxide was installed to diffuse solar gain and approximate the light conditions in a tropical forest.

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On a sunny spring afternoon the sun was setting directly behind The Palm House, creating spectacular shadows and from the outside the whole glasshouse looked illuminated.

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The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew - https://www.kew.org/

To read more about the design and construction of The Palm House - http://www.engineering-timelines.com/scripts/engineeringItem.asp?id=97