The very one place I wanted to visit about 3 years ago; 3 weeks ago, I managed to visit! It just goes to show the power of the mind and when you want something so bad, the world just conspires and brings it to you (in this case, it took me to it).
Well, it all started when I was still researching on setting up Shop Nanjala. I bumped into some information about how fantastic it would be for one to visit Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. I remember jotting it down on my note book and saying that one day, if I ever did get the chance to go to London, I would make a date to visit.
Well, fast forward to 3 weeks ago… I got that opportunity and so, arriving at London I immediately booked my ticket and went hunting for a sketch book and good pens. Eagerly thinking how my sketch book would be full of wonderful pen and ink illustrations…
Bright and early, armed with a warm coat, a wooly scarf, gloves and of course my note book, pen and a map, I was off to the station to catch the tube. It was a chilly Monday, the 27th of November 2017. For the very first time, I took “the tube” (the hugely famous and well branded London underground train transport system – still mesmerized by their identity) . From Embarkment, one has to board the Richmond train and drop off at Kew.
I’ll skip the part where I explain how clueless I was at paying for the train ticket, as well as how to get passed the gates so that I could access the platform to catch the train. Lets just say, there was a good man who assisted me with the purchase on some machine as well as showed me how to scan the ticket on the scanner so that the gates can open for me.
The transport system in that country is amazing, you get to be informed every so often on how far along the train one is waiting for is. Whether its approaching, arrived or is boarding. The only time in my own country one gets to hear the “voice of God” is either when you are in a church or when in an airport or bank! The efficiency and organization there is near excellent. Even when the train is late by 3 minutes, yes 3 minutes, you get to hear a good lady on the intercom say politely, “The train to Richmond is delayed by 3 minutes”.
Gosh, In my country someone notifies you after the time has lapsed by like say 15 minutes and will normally call to say “ Ngoja niko kwa jam na come. I’m almost there (so Kenyan) give me another 10 minutes” meaning our margin of lateness is more by 20 minutes before we actually “think we should notify someone about our lateness”. Culture differences, clearly.
Well, it was an easy trip, there is a map on the wall and at every stop, one gets to be informed (again by the lovely lady on the intercom) what the next stop is so you must be either sleeping or daydreaming to actually miss your stop. 45 minutes later and I was at Kew Royal Botanical Gardens!
From the station it was a bit of a walk, however, I did get to see some lovely homes at Kew. Once at the Gardens gates, they just check your ticket (I had pre-booked my visit with the concierge at my hotel) and was tipped on the great spots to look out for.
Kew is a vast and splendid. The path I selected to start the journey lead me to the Palm House, a beautiful glass building with palms from so many different parts of the world. The notebook was put aside and I just had to feast my eyes of it all. The glass house is kept to an almost humid and warm temperature so you actually feel like you are in Lagos 🙂 but outside is still old chilly London. Must cost a fortune just to have the central heating on.
Well, from banana plants, plantain, to coconut palms, to cycads, I saw them all, crammed in this glass house were different palms and a whole medley of other smaller plants that grow and thrive in tropical climate. One hour and– still not a sketch. However, I snapped some few photos as seen here…
Next, I decided to visit The Princess of Wales Conservatory. On the way there, I captured shots of a few animals such as squirrels and geese. As I continued walking through the pathway, I saw some stunning sculptural figurines just near the Palm house and thought I should go read the plaques. It mentioned that the sculptures were the “Queens Beasts”. They were actually symbols of royal ancestry and were presented to Queen Elizabeth the II in 1956. Thought the were really regal sculptures.
As I entered the Princess of Wales Conservatory, i was excited, obviously because it has my favourite plants in the world! Succulents. And boy don’t they have a huge variety. From bromeliads, to cactii, to air-plants to succulents of every shape and size. I even tried to start placing a mental bet that I won’t see a particular species that I own, then when I think I wont see it, I find it somewhere in the vast space. Think the only one I didn’t see was a rare species called the “Moonstones”. It’s, particularly rare and hard to grow. All in all, I was happy that my craving for seeing a great collection of thriving succulents was satisfied.
The Conservatory’s climate here was high but not as humid as the Palm house. Here I think I spent the longest time, probably 2 hours just going through it all. I honestly would recommend just going to this one place if one is planning to visit Kew. Phenomenal and interesting plants do exist there. For example, there’s a plant called Euphorbia Obese that just looked like one large coconut or giant seed with very intricate patterns on it. Also I got to learn that the Bromeliad plants were used in the Americas, hundereds of years ago as a source of flour (yes flour – they would dry and grind the leaves) and for making fibre and household items.
Went to grab something warm at the Orangery and then went to my final destination for the day. The Hive. It’s simply stunning. The architectural installation is a work to marvel at. Placed at a vantage spot on a hill, this towering structure is a feat of British engineering . Mimicing the bee hive, the artist Wolfgang Buttress designed it to highlight the importance of bees, the main pollinators, of their contribution to the food chain. The installation is linked to live Kew’s hives and lights on the installation flicker in time with the vibrations caused as the bees communicate with each other. How cool is that! I took some pretty decent pictures and then again, the biting cold could not allow me to wip out my notebook for a sketch. A valid excuse.
By now it was getting late and they close the Gardens at around 3 pm so having seen at least a third of what I wished to have seen – one can’t just see it all in one day. I reluctantly started my way back to the entrance to grab some quick Christmas gifts at the gift shop. On the way I saw a tree made out of lights and recalled someone telling me that there was a lights show on one of UK’s tallest living Christmas tree, which is adorned with 1,800 white lights, and is switched on at 3.15pm each day. Unfortunately that day was closing early so I missed it.
In the gift shop, one would think that besides seeds and garden gear, there would be little else to shop for. I was wrong. The shop is impressive, fully stocked with a wide range of yes, pots, seeds and garden gear but you had kid’s soft toys and books, gift cards, mugs, homeware items and unique lapel pins, jewelry, custom chocolates, prints, luxury hand creams made of heavenly scents such as jasmine, rose etc and so much more that I was spoilt for choice. It was the perfect place to buy the perfect unique gift that just didn’t scream stereotypical “Brit” or “I love London”. Especially love a book I bought for Shop Nanjala called “Living with Plants by Sophie Lee”. I blew my credit card limit here, contented and happily walked to the train platform to get back to Embarkment.
A visit to the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens is worth every penny. It’s an amazing experience that I would recommend to anyone who is in love with nature or is just a curious botanist visiting London. The place is unforgettable.
My sketch book was empty. Not even a single illustration. But, oh the memories.
From Kenya to Kew, with love.