Kew Gardens in the Rain

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06.06.2021

Strelitzia aka Bird of Paradise

After many months of being out of bounds, glasshouses around the UK reopened on 17th May. In my book this is cause for celebration, I really missed spending time under glass, especially over winter when everything else was grey, cold and miserable. Ed and I made the trip down to London on Friday to visit Kew Gardens for the first time in two years, as he had the week off school for half term. It rained, all day, but nothing could dampen our spirits.

Passiflora
Inside the Temperate House, which reopened after a long period of refurbishment in May 2018

The glasshouses themselves aren’t quite the spontaneous free for all of the Before Times, but they are a joy to explore all the same. You have to queue to get into them, wear a mask, and follow a one way system which renders large areas of the glasshouses out of bounds behind barriers, but still. It was really good to be back inside them after all this time. One day, who knows when, these safety measures will be behind us and we can freely explore glasshouses without restriction. Until then, I’ll celebrate the small wins.

There is one benefit to all the barriers though, and that’s pictures without people in them! These empty glasshouse scenes were made possible by barriers blocking pathways, keeping fellow glasshouse dwellers out of frame. It’s not quite a silver lining, but a small perk.

Of course I had to get my fix of ginkgo. Ed patiently sat on a bench under cover of glass and waited for me to be finished with photographing rain diamonds.

As it was raining we spent some time in the Marianne North Gallery which is filled with more than 800 oil paintings of botanical scenes. Marianne North was a wealthy Victorian woman, born in 1830, who dedicated her life to painting flowers. She travelled the world, documenting plants and landscapes in a photorealistic manner, and then paid for this gallery to be designed and built to showcase her work upon her return to England. Each of the paintings in the gallery was placed by Marianne herself, and she also painted frescos on the doors and around the gallery. As such, the building is listed and has been left unchanged since she died.

Marianne North led a fascinating life and was a trailblazer for women in an era when women – even wealthy white women – didn’t have many opportunities to further their careers or dream beyond their families. The collection needs to be understood in context though. Her work is entangled with the history, culture and workings of the British Empire, and was only made possible because of her social status and privilege as a white British woman. She often employed locals at her destinations to carry her art materials to remote locations, putting their lives at risk in the process. It’s worth reading up on her life and work, she certainly had an interesting life and was prolific, and highly skilled as an artist. The paintings are social and historical artefacts, but they are also beautiful pieces of art, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing them up close.

Kew Gardens have recently announced their plans to begin ‘decolonising’ their collections, and placing the plants, architecture and other items which they are caretakers of into the correct and full historical context in which they came to be in London in the first place, and for this I commend them. It is a significant undertaking.

The Temperate House
The Great Pagoda
The Japanese Garden

Ed, ever the optimist, hadn’t packed an umbrella or a raincoat. As such, the first thing we did upon arrival was buy him an emergency poncho and an umbrella. It’s been folded up and will be reused so it won’t go to waste. I hate single use plastic, but the alternative was him getting drenched.

Lovely sap green new growth on the redwoods.

‘Leaf Spirit’ by Simon Gudgeon
‘Leaf Spirit’ by Simon Gudgeon

It was hard work taking photos in the Palm House because the humidity was so high that my lens steamed up within seconds. Coupled with a face mask that blew steam out of the top and into my viewfinder, things started to look murky very quickly. I think it’s because all the doors were closed and they were watering, as it wasn’t that humid when we visited in 2018 and 2019.

The Waterlily House
The Waterlily House
The Waterlily House
The Waterlily House
The Waterlily House

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