Inside the Palm House by Kol Tregaskes via the Londonist Flickrpool
Kew Garden's Summer Festival launches on Saturday. Acknowledging the UN's International Year of Biodiversity a couple of extra special touches highlight the relationship between plant, insect and animal life: a new sound installation in the Palm House and the addition of tropical butterflies to the Princess of Wales Conservatory.
Walking into the Victorian Palm House unawares you could be forgiven for searching the foliage for screeching monkeys, singing cicadas and barking frogs. Brought to you by the same folk behind River Sounding, Whispering In The Leaves is an aural enhancement to the tropical greenhouse, emitting from over 80 speakers cunningly hid in the greenery. Natural history sound-recordist Chris Watson (you're bound to have heard his work for the BBC) has created two compositions which will be transmitted at hourly intervals throughout the day - Dawn in the morning and Dusk in the afternoon. Each lasts 18 minutes, the approximate time it takes for the transitions between darkness and daylight in the dense tropical vegetation.
Chris Watson notes how some visitors barely notice the soundtrack but when it stops schoolkids have cried out wondering where the monkeys have gone. Taking an aural tour around the house the surround sound recording puts you in amongst a tropical hive of bird, insect and animal life waking up at dawn, and up against the insect 'wall of sound' as dusk approaches. When you mount the spiral staircase to canopy level, the creature noise thins out and the pattering of the rain on leaves, following rumbling sporadic thunder, comes to the fore. As each composition concludes and normal background noise returns for the rest of the hour, the contrast highlights the awesome density of sound and life suggested by the installation.
Meanwhile, over in the mini glass mountain range of the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the addition of tropical butterflies and giant bug and beast sculptures has made it a must see for kids and wide eyed adults alike. It's all about pollination, the "living love story" betwixt plant and insect life but we defy you to learn much when you find yourself surrounded by hundreds of butterflies loose in the last zone.
A cabinet nursery holds row upon row of moth and butterfly pupae dangling on delicate threads, enabling you to witness the lifecycle of these beautiful yet unpredictable flying insects. Stand still and gawp around you: there are fluttery friends everywhere you look, on the ground, on plants, feeding on fruit, flapping erratically through the air and landing nonchalantly on your coat. It's simply stunning and guaranteed to be a magnet for the amateur photographer in all of us.
We told you we loved Kew a couple of years ago. Nothing has changed.
Chris Watson will be appearing in a series of walks and talks about Whispering In The Leaves over the Summer and even 'mixing live' this Saturday and the weekend of 28/29 August.
The Royal Botanic Garden, Kew is open daily at 9.30am. The Summer Festival runs until 5 September. Adults £13.40/£11.50, children free.