The grade II Listed Temple of Bellona was built by Sir William Chambers in 1760
The last time I visited Kew Gardens was some years back in the summer when a friend was visiting the UK. We took a boat from Westminster all the way to Kew, and we had a lovely day out. I have not been back since, partly because of the high entrance fee; though after starting a botanical illustration course a few weeks ago, I was keen to return to the gardens to see the new Japanese botanical illustration exhibition and the Marianne North gallery.
Coincidentally, I mentioned this to a new friend, and I subsequently found out that not only she lives in Kew but is also a member of the gardens. Thanks to her – who knows the gardens like the back of her hand – I was able to visit the garden twice in a month to see the exhibition, the gallery, the new hive installation and most importantly, the autumn foliage. And I thoroughly enjoyed spending time at the gardens.
The Hive installation
We first visited the Hive, a new open-air structure, inspired by scientific research into the health of bees. Designed by UK based artist Wolfgang Buttress, the multi-sensory installation is made from thousands of pieces of aluminium which create a lattice effect. Inside the structure, it is fitted with speakers and hundreds of LED lights that respond to the real-time activity of bees in a beehive at Kew. The sound and light intensity within the space changes as the energy levels in the real beehive surge, and visitors can feel the vibration while they stand inside.
The Pagoda and Japanese landscape
When we made our first visit, the colours of the trees had yet to turn, which was slightly disappointing. However, we did see the brilliant Flora Japonica exhibition (until March 2017), which showcases Japanese native flora portraayed by 36 of the most eminent contemporary Japanese botanical artists, and historic drawings and paintings by some of Japan’s most revered botanists and artists such as Dr Tomitaro Makino, Sessai Hattori and Chikusai Kato.
Top three rows: The lake and the Palladian Bridge
Another reason why I wanted to visit Kew was to see the Marianne North Gallery. I recently watched a documentary on the amazing and inspiring botanical artist who traveled around the world to paint plants in the late 19th century. As a single Victorian woman, it must have been a tremendous task to travel solo and documented all the rare and foreign species that were largely unknown to the UK at the time.
The Marianne North gallery was inaugurated in 1882, after Marianne had spent a year arranging her paintings inside the building. After a £1.8 million restoration project, the gallery reopened in 2009 featuring 833 paintings and depicting more than 900 species of plants. If you have not visited this gallery before, I urge you to go because it is simply astounding and fantastic.
Most of the photos here were taken on our second visit – when the leaves finally changed colours. The gardens were looking beautiful and one of the highlights of the day was to walk up to the Treetop walkway to watch the sunset and enjoy the spectacular view from the top.
The Palm house
A quotation from the English nature writer Richard Jefferies described Kew Gardens as "a great green book, whose broad pages are illuminated with flowers, lying open at the feet of Londoners."
As Londoners, we are very lucky to have this gem in the city, and it is certainly a place for all ages and for all seasons.