Yesterday Emily and I made our way over to Kew Gardens to join their Dementia Health Walk which aims to get people exercising in the fresh air while exploring the grounds of a truly incredible London landmark . If you haven’t been to Kew Gardens before then all we can say is that you’re in for a real treat when you do!
Before we get started I do have to admit I’ve been here before.
Still, it’s always a pleasure because no matter the season there’s always something going on here be it an art exhibition, flower festival or behind-the-scenes tour of the Herbarium. However, it was Emily’s first time at Kew so it was wonderful seeing it through her eyes, and we’ll definitely be heading back next year to talk to people and hopefully get them interested in the Dementia Cafe.
Happily, this time I was able to show Emily my favourite features of Kew, instead of having to rely on a walk leader who may have planned out an entirely different route. It may have been a little cold out, but we soon warmed up and the frost gradually melted away and the ornamental trees lining the walk to the Orangery twinkled merrily.
Don’t worry we know that not everyone’s green fingered but the utterly brilliant thing about Kew is that isn’t just any old English garden. For one, it has its own police force, the Kew Constabulary, there’s also a tiny red palace in the grounds and Kew is said to ‘house the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collection in the world’.
Designed by royalty, her grounds truly are an everlasting tribute to the sheer majesty of flora and fauna. Over 30,000 species of plants and flowers live here as well as fish, birds and tree frogs in the aquarium. In short, millions of visitors flock through her gilded gates every year to wonder at the exotic, rare and historic specimens on display and meditatively stroll down meandering, gravel paths.
Typically, you won’t see everything in one visit, this park is extremely vast, so it’s best to plan out what you want to see well ahead of time and do grab a map if it’s your first trip to the gardens. So where do you start in a place that has three restaurants, three gift shops, a herbarium, conference centers, education labs, a whole palace and, oh yes, a permanent art gallery?
First on the ‘must see’ list has got to be The Palm House.
Why? Well, it’s not only a gorgeous example of Victorian architecture that’s been lovingly restored, but it’s also bursting with palms of every size, shape, colour and leaf. Step through those white double doors and immediately the first thing you’ll notice is the smell. It’s the clean, pure scent of living green leaves enriched with rich, dark soil and soft gentle chemical-free mist. Feel the gentle heat caress your bare skin and close your eyes, now imagine you’re in a verdant rainforest in Australasia, South America, or Africa because for all intents and purposes you are.
Next, look up and marvel at the twisted trunks and gnarled branches that stretch right up to the roof of this incredible glasshouse. Take your time to slowly wander under their giant, umbrella like, leaves whose long fronds playfully tickle your back. Travel up the winding iron staircase and you’ll emerge onto a narrow ledge, or balcony, where you’re able to walk all the way around the perimeter of the greenhouse to view these stunning plants from above. It’s safe to say that this was probably Emily’s favourite area, mine too, and anyone would have to admit it is a truly impressive building.
For those with mobility issues or who are in wheelchairs there’s still plenty to see, feel and touch away from ‘the canopy’ as it were and like the rest of the grounds the paths in The Palm House are smooth, well maintained and not too slippery. However, if you’re with someone who’s less steady on their feet it may be an idea to link arms when walking as water does collect occasionally on the floor. Another standout feature has to be the Water Lilly House but do bear in mind it has now closed for winter. So what can you expect during the spring / summer months?
How about a huge circular tranquil pond festooned with flowers, ferns, trees and, of course, giant Lotus Waterlilies. These elegant beauties bud into riotous colour and tendrils of yellow frangipani weave themselves through the handrails. Again, paths are smooth, there’s a 360 degree view and ramps are everywhere so it’s no problem for wheelchair users because Kew really is ‘everyone-friendly’.
We then moved on to the Princess Of Wales Conservatory, a multi-pyramid shaped building that’s split into lots of distinct zones and has its very own subterranean mini aquarium. The Conservatory is also, among others, the bespoke venue for the world famous Kew Orchid Festival that the estate holds each year in March. Here, mangroves line the main pond, spiky cacti jostle for position and deadly Venus fly traps lie in wait for their next buzzing meal. When it comes to transport Kew has a ‘garden train’ that slowly winds its way through the entire grounds, regularly stopping, and is ideal for those who get tired quickly or aren’t able to walk too far. A visit to Kew also firmly engages all five senses: sight, smell, touch, sound and even taste which is absolutely vital for someone living with any disability but especially for people with Dementia.
Next, you could visit the lofty Treetop Walk where there’s a glass lift right to the top so you can watch the ground fall away beneath you before being transported eighteen metres up into the domain of birds and squirrels. The views from up here are truly spectacular, you’ll be able to look out over the whole park while walking round the suspended metal platform and if the weather’s good enough you’ll see Kingston, Twickenham and, in the very distance, London itself.
There’s also the tree house, a Japanese garden, bamboo walk and five-storey Japanese Pagoda as well as the winding, bronze bridge of the Sackler Crossing and the ornamental rose gardens with romantic trellis walkway and charming arbors. Kew is also home to The Hive, a multi-sensory magical experience that’s designed to emulate the life cycle of bumblebees. Even better, the installation responds to the real-life bees living right behind the exhibit and so comes alive when they do!
Personally, I feel that a visit to Kew just isn’t complete without a coffee and slice of homemade sponge cake in the Orangery where there’s options to suit everyone’s taste and dietary requirements. There’s also three shops on site and not everything is garden-themed either with confectionery, beauty products, skincare ranges and books among the gifts and goodies.
Overall, not only were we i.e Emily hugely impressed at the sheer amount of things to do, see, smell, touch etc in Kew Gardens but we both firmly agreed that the experience really brought home to us just how amazing nature is, and that you’re never too old, or young, to enjoy the simple pleasures of a gentle walk in the crisp winter sunshine.