Patterns of the Palm House

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Last week, on a rare dry day, I made my very first visit to Kew Gardens in London.  It is almost ridiculous that I have never visited before but living where I do it involves at least 6 hours on trains so you can understand why I have talked myself out of a visit time and again.  However, as I wanted to meet up with some horticultural friends who live in London and who I hadn’t seen for just over a year it seemed a good venue for a Christmas get together.

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The main attraction was the Palm House, which was particularly apt as I was with a group who are very into exotics and knowledgeable on the subject. However,  I found myself distracted completely by the structure of the Palm House with most of my photographs looking up beyond the foliage to the roof.  The Palm House was built between 1844 and 1848 by the architect Decimus Burton and the iron maker Richard Turner.  It was the first large scale structural use of wrought iron.  Sadly the Temperate House, which is even larger, is closed for restoration and will probably be shut until 2018 but I might get around to another visit by then!

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I loved the spiral staircases which take you to the top of the Palm House and on to a walkway from where you can look down on to the foliage.

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You also get to see close up the detail of the building’s construction.

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I found the contrast of the lush tropical foliage with the hard and geometric structure fascinating, especially with the benefit of a beautiful blue sky in the background.

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Just like the structure of the building many of the plants housed here have strong architectural shapes, such as this Dioon spinulosum (I think!).

We also visited the Alpine House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which I really enjoyed but is hard to photograph well unless you take plant close-ups which I didn’t as again I was distracted by the overall view.

All in all it was a lovely day out despite leaving home in the dark and a return journey completely in the dark.  Maybe a summer visit will allow a longer visit with the opportunity to explore the outside of the gardens more.  Maybe an overnight visit would be an even better idea, maybe to coincide with RHS Chelsea – I feel a plan forming!



Author: Helen Johnstone

I live in Malvern, Worcestershire and am a very keen gardener. I started the Patient Gardener Blog in January 2008 as a way of recording what was happening in my garden and connecting with other like-minded people. I started a second blog PatientGardener 365 January 2013 in order to try and post a photo a day to capture what is growing in my garden or places I have visited

12 thoughts on “Patterns of the Palm House”

    1. Hi Charlie
      the journey is more tedious than difficult. I have visited quite a few botanical gardens in recent years and they really are a mixed bag, I liked Oxford as it was one of the first and I also liked Barcelona’s as it was so modern with broad concrete ‘roads’ zig zagging up the side of the hill.

  1. Just wonderful to see Kew at this time of year, thank you, Helen. Although Kew was once one of our favourite on-the-doorstep haunts, we don’t get to go often enough these days. 2015’s BBC Plant Odyesseys had a segment on how the Palm House was heated in Victorian days with a little known underground railway supplying hot coals, no less. I hope we all get to see the Temperate House in all its renewed finery, erstwhile it has been the undeserved poorer cousin to the grand and beautiful Palm House.

  2. The glasshouses at Kew are stunning, the Victorians certainly knew what they were doing! I’m not surprised that it’s now a World Heritage Site – shame that the Government cut their funding though! I must go there again soon!

    1. Hi AP
      Cambridge is on the list, there are some other gardens in that area so it might be worth a short trip away

  3. Great photos Helen! I remember feeling exactly the same way about the structure of the Palm House. When we visited (2012) parts of the Temperate House were closed, but we were able to see bits. What a beautiful place! (and I think your plan is a good one!)

  4. I have only been to Kew twice and enjoyed both visits we were living in Sussex on the first occasion and visiting family on the second. Getting around London is just not nice shame our country is so London centric. Thanks for sharing your visit, I love your structure shots.

  5. Hi Helen, what lovely photos, thanks for sharing.
    I lived around Richmond and Kew for over 30 years before moving to the Isle of Wight and so visited often. On one occasion, I think in 1988, we were lucky enough to visit the Palm House when it had just been renovated and was empty of plants. It was a similar ‘blue sky’ day and the structure looked absolutely magnificent.

  6. I have to say, you had a lovely bright day to show off the plants and the structures. When I was at the dyeing workshop in Glasgow Botanic Gardens, it rained all day. The lovely white-painted ironwork didn’t really show up against a pale grey sky!

  7. What a great place to while away a winter’s day Helen. I’ve still got Kew on my wish list of places to visit so really must try to get my act together soon.

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