Tomlinson: Taking time to explore The Royal Botanic Gardens while in London

Visiting gardens on travels a refreshing break, which leads to pleasant gardening discoveries.

Travelling, whether touring, business or visiting friends and family can be tiring. Taking a few hours or a day to visit a garden on a warm day can be a relaxing change of pace. Most gardens have pleasant surprises and The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London, England is one of those gardens. The 300 acres (121 hectares) garden borders the River Thames and can be entered by four different gates making it easy to use public transportation as parking spaces are minimal.

Paths and grassy spaces — and according to the guide — over 100 major attractions are spread throughout the park make it important to pick up a map and plan the day. Very few visitors see the complete garden in one day.

Attractions can be broken down into a number of groups, plants, activities, seasonal, glasshouses and exhibitions.

The garden is more than 250 years old as are some of the plants. They include local plant material as well as plants from throughout the world. All plants are labeled with Latin names with many also carrying common names. Look for the easy to find tags and be surprised at how many are similar to ones that grow in Central Alberta. It depends on the season as to which part of the garden is highlighted. In the fall it was the Arboretum and Pineturm highlighting the different types of trees as they prepare for winter.

The Tree Top Walk way is a must for young and old. There is a choice of walking up a number of flights of stairs or taking the lift. Once on the top a sturdy walk way allows visitors to enjoy the view as well as the activities in the upper canopy.

Glass houses date from the Victorian era to present. The Palm house is home to many tropical plants but the highlight is different varieties of Palm trees. The water lily House is filled with tropical water lilies which can be fragrant as well as beautiful. The newest addition is the Princess of Whales Conservatory which was opened in 1987. This greenhouse takes one through the different temperate zones around the world. A small side garden is home to carnivorous plants from around the world. There is also an Alpine house with a dry windy climate providing the needed climate for the plant collection it contains.

Children will be drawn to the Climbers and Creepers section as well as the Tree House towers which are set back from many of the other attractions allowing children to have fun and not disturb others.

Kew offers a climb on/climb off bus that runs regularly during the high season. Off season it does a park circuit every hour. Volunteers provide information about the park as part of the tour. The land train offers participants with shelter from the sun or rain.

Each season highlights a different part of the park. Making visitors want to visit again and again. For a more personal tour, book ahead and get a free walking tour from a knowledgeable volunteer.

There are many more attractions within the garden but they would be impossible to include in a short article as one can’t see the entire garden in a day.

The park is a research and working facility with a library and herbarium that offers courses that may be of interest.

There are numerous places to stop to purchase a bite to eat or bring your own picnic. Kew Gardens also has shops with a diverse stock from souvenirs to plants and garden related items.

Using trained volunteers allows the park to operate charging visitors up to 15 £ for adults or 62 £ a year.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at your_garden@hotmail.com

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