Serene, green Kew a respite from London hubbub

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It’s no big secret that the English love their gardens. As a result the country is chock-a-block with public gardens, garden shows and other leafy attractions.

In London, one of the best ways to escape the city hubbub and enjoy a low-key day out is a trip to the serene and green Kew Gardens.

Officially called the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, the 121-hectare UNESCO World Heritage Site contains the world’s largest collection of living plants — some 30,000 species. (And for plant-challenged people like myself, they are considerate enough to label them! No doubt part of their mandate as a major research and educational organization.)

You could spend an entire day at Kew and not see all of its 100 attractions, but here are some highlights:

— The Hive: This enormous aluminum sculpture by artist Wolfgang Buttress tells the story of bees and their importance to humans. The Hive was the centrepiece of the U.K.’s pavilion at the Milan Expo last year, and it will remain on display at Kew until November 2017.

— The Treetop Walkway: Not your average stroll in the park, this 200-metre-long, 18-metre-high raised walkway provides spectacular views as you walk through the crowns of enormous lime, sweet chestnut and oak trees. The walkway is part of the Arboretum, which contains many exotic, enormous and ancient trees.

— Historical buildings: Kew has several Victorian glasshouses (or greenhouses) including the Palm House, Temperate House — the world’s largest surviving Victorian glass house (currently being renovated), and the small and steamy Waterlily House. During my visit, crowds of school children crowded around the pond at the centre of the Waterlily House for views of the humidity loving flowers and ferns. I was impressed that the children were so interested — the next generation of English gardeners I guess! Other historical buildings include Kew Palace, Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, follies, temples, galleries and more.

— The Pagoda: Built in 1762, before Kew was opened to the public in 1840, this 10-storey octagonal structure will soon undergo a two-year renovation. Officials say 80 dragons once decorated the pagoda, but disappeared many years ago. The renovation will restore the dragons.

— Performances: Two theatrical presentations are performed in the park this summer. Wind In the Willows (through Aug. 28) and Dream Fairies (July 30-Aug. 28).


Chatting with my seat-mate on a recent flight to London, I casually mentioned my trip included a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show.

Her enthusiastic reaction prompted a vague sense of guilt on my part as she was an avid gardener, and I am not.

To be honest, I can’t tell a periwinkle from a primrose, and even though a garden stroll is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, I wasn’t sure that qualified me to visit such a prestigious exhibition.

The Chelsea Flower Show is an annual charity event put on by England’s Royal Horticultural Society. The five-day show is one of London’s hottest tickets.

For plant lovers, it’s right up there with the Oscars, Paris Fashion Week or — dare I say — soccer. Its 150,000 attendees include socialites, celebrities and royalty.

Storefronts near the show-grounds at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, are gussied up with elaborate floral displays. TV coverage is on the scale of the NHL playoffs with garden gurus — including Monty Don — giving lengthy reports each night of the show. Entire newspaper sections and magazine issues are dedicated to it.

Chelsea Flower Show exhibitors present elaborate theme gardens by renowned designers, emerging garden trends, the latest horticultural products, rare flowers and plants, floral art, garden sculpture and much more.

The 2017 show will be held May 23-27 with tickets on sale this autumn. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and sell out very quickly, so book early if you are interested in attending. Once tickets are gone, it’s almost impossible to get one.

Ironically, while Chelsea may be the world’s most famous flower show, it is not the largest. That honour goes to a different RHS event, the Hampton Court Flower Show, another hot ticket of the horticultural world.

But England-bound garden lovers should not despair if they can’t attend these iconic events. The RHS puts on many other multi-day flower shows during the year. And while they may not be as big or as famous as Chelsea or Hampton Court, these smaller scale shows can actually be more manageable for a visitor.

Upcoming events include the RHS Hyde Hall Flower Show, Aug. 3-6 in Chelmsford, and the RHS Wisley Flower Show, Sept. 5-10 in Surrey. Both areas are easily accessible from London.


— For the Chelsea Flower Show and other Royal Horticultural Society events, see

— For details on Kew Gardens, see

— For information on travel to England, see