The Royal Gardens

The Queen & Kew - A Royal Partnership

The Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew are situated along the cultural landscape of the Thames. Since the 17th century, the site has been a place of retreat for the royal family. In the 18th century, internationally renowned architects such as William Chambers and 'Capability' Brown not only created many edifices, but also remodelled the earlier Baroque gardens to make a pastoral landscape in the English style, establishing a fashion that then spread throughout the continent. The first botanic garden at Kew, originally for medicinal plants, was founded in 1759 by Princess Augusta and Lord Bute.

Kew in summer
The Palm House

Kew Palace is the oldest building on the site (1631). Classical in inspiration, this house (in red brick laid in Flemish bond style) was built on the banks of the Thames. The orangery (now used as a restaurant), the largest Georgian edifice on the site, was built by William Chambers in 1761, and stopped being used for its original purpose and housed a museum until 1959. Queen Charlotte's Cottage was probably originally the residence of the head of the menagerie and was given to Queen Charlotte. In 1802, the wall between the two estates of Richmond and Kew was demolished. The palace built by Henry VII at Richmond in the 16th century, which could be reached by boat from the capital, proved an attractive venue for the Court during the summer months. The Kew estate became the property of the Capel family, who sold the lease to Frederick, Prince of Wales, in 1731.

The essential elements of the landscape garden designed by William Nesfield are one of the outstanding features of Kew. This garden is centred on an iron and glass structure, the Palm House (1844-48), designed by the architects Richard Turner and Decimus Burton. From the Palm House there are three vistas: the Pagoda vista, the Sion vista towards the Thames, and a minor vista.

The Herbarium, originally an 18th century hunting lodge, houses collections of plants and a library: the former museum of botanic economics (1847) has been converted into a school of horticulture (1990) and a new Jodrell Laboratory (1965) caters for the needs of researchers in plant anatomy, physiology, cytogenetics and biochemistry.

As the number of visitors increased, the scientific collections were enriched and glasshouses and spaces were altered to house living plant collections. The Second World War inflicted some material damage on Kew Gardens. The bicentenary of the creation of the gardens gave a new impetus. The main activities of Kew Gardens today are the conservation of the heritage of the site itself, and the conservation of ecosystems worldwide. Most of the buildings and structures are in a good state of conservation.

2012 Olympics at Kew
The Olympic Rings

The history of Kew Gardens is very complex. In 1772 two contiguous royal estates were combined: Richmond (the western half of today's gardens) and Kew (the eastern half). Three other estates (private residences and gardens) were also included. The palace built by Henry VII at Richmond in the 16th century, which could be reached by boat from the capital, proved an attractive venue for the court during the summer months. The Kew estate became the property of the Capel family, who made its gardens into a much admired attraction by the mid 16th century. The Capels sold the lease to Frederick, Prince of Wales, in 1731.

The gardens of Richmond and Kew were substantially remodelled at the end of the 18th century. Queen Caroline entrusted the alterations at Richmond to the king's gardener, Charles Bridgeman (who died in 1738), and the architect and landscape gardener William Kent (1685- 1748) - two well-known figures in the early years of landscape gardening, which at the time was a novel approach to the art of gardens. Following the death of the Prince of Wales (1751), Princess Augusta was assisted by Lord Bute and William Chambers (1723-1796), who gave botanical, architectural and gardening advice, and set in motion a highly active period for the estate. William Chambers revived the fashion for ‘Chinoiseries' which gained popularity throughout England and then spread to the continent in the form of Anglo-Chinese gardens. It is generally accepted that Princess Augusta and Lord Bute established the first botanic garden at Kew in 1759. This modest 4-hectare garden, originally for medicinal plants, was developed thanks to the efforts of the gardener William Aiton.