Things You Might Not Know About Kew Gardens

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 10 months ago
Things You Might Not Know About Kew Gardens

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew is home to plant species from every nook and cranny of the world. Also instagrammers. Lots of instagrammers. Here are some of the things that those staring at their iphones might not know...

Photo: Dariusz

1. Parts of old London Bridge

When the 19th century London Bridge made the jump over to Arizona, not all of it was needed. Around 200 granite blocks didn't make the trip across the pond, so the building company that demolished the bridge offered them to Kew Gardens. Kew took four granite slabs and placed them on the banks of the big lake near where the Sackler Crossing is now. Nowadays there's a bench atop the slabs. Many people sit atop it without realising their backside is parked on a real bit of London history.

Photo: Andrea Heribanova

2. James Bond

A chance meeting between Ian Fleming and Victor Summerhayes — a former keeper of Kew's orchid herbarium — led to Kew popping up a few times in 007 novels. Summerhayes himself makes an appearance in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, followed by the reveal that M relaxes by painting wild orchids.

Kew also gets mentioned in You Only Live Twice, in which the villain — Gurnt Shatterhand, an alias for Ernst Stavro Blofeld — has a garden filled with deadly poisonous plants where people travel to commit suicide. No such garden has (yet) been discovered in Kew. Although the stench of their most infamous plant will knock you sideways.

3. An accidental scientific breakthrough

Part of Kew that's frequently overlooked is its world class research lab. One of Kew's biggest scientific breakthroughs was stumbled upon by its boffins, by accident during the storm of 1987.

The Turner's Oak, planted in 1798, was uprooted by the high winds... and something amazing was discovered. The gale had actually given the tree's roots more space, more access to water (they'd been compacted by centuries of people trampling the soil from above).

This discovery led to the development of the tree surgeon technique, whereby injecting nitrogen underground using an 'Airspade', helps a tree flourish.

Photo: Ian Wylie

4. 50p worth £50

2009 marked the 250th anniversary of Kew Gardens, and the Royal Mint released a commemorative 50 pence. Usually, millions of commemorative coins are produced. But only 210,000 Kew coins were ever released. This has led to them soaring in value, and selling for over 100 times their actual monetary worth.

5. A diverse forecast

The Princess of Wales conservatory has 10 different climate zones under one roof. There are two major climates that take up the majority of the building: dry tropics and wet tropics. Then there are eight smaller micro-climates catering to each set of plants' individual needs. The more prepared of you might want to bring a change of clothes (or nine) with you to Kew.

Marianne North Gallery. Photo: champnet

6. Marianne North's doors

Kew is obviously best known for its plants, but it also contains some incredible art, at the Marianne North Gallery. The gallery features the work North, the daughter of an MP who spent the 1800s travelling the world; producing stunning landscapes wherever she went. A permanent gallery was opened for her work at Kew in 1882.

North had wanted the gallery to serve: 'tea or coffee and biscuits (nothing else)... at a fair price.' Kew refused, and in protest, North painted the gallery doors, one with coffee and the other with tea. There is, to our knowledge, no Digestive biscuit on the ceiling.

7. It has its own police force

They're called the Kew Constabulary and no, this is not a joke. They were established in the 1840s — originally consisting of war veterans and part-time gardeners — and have nearly all the power of the normal police, but only on the park's grounds. However, they can't instigate proceedings for offences committed. Nowadays their main duty is patrolling Kew Gardens. But we still don't recommend trying any funny business.

Last Updated 23 January 2017