Saturday, January 03, 2009

New Year 's Day at the Royal Botanical Gardens

The journey to Kew took an hour and a half from Greenwich. Fortunately, it was enlivened by reminiscesnces with an ex colleague from my local FE college. I’d told her that Kew Gardens was celebrating its 250th anniversary by letting in visitors for free, instead of charging the usual £10 entry fee, so she was happy to join R and myself.

It was getting dark by the time arrived. We had lingered too long at the Waterstones coffee shop, watching friends re-uniting and showing off their babies. Then the aroma of fish and chips near Kew station reminded us we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. As the temperature was near freezing , we warmed up inside the cabin.

Afterwards we walked against the flow of departing people, who resembled a football crowd leaving the ground after a match.

‘What time do you close?’ R asked the man at the gate.

‘In about four minutes’.

But he gave us tickets and let us in. My friend observed, as we headed briskly in the direction of the palm house, that loiterers would take a while to disperse. At one end of a huge lake a fountain still played and ducks swam about in the dusk. The Palm House, bulked like a grey whale against the darker sky, was closed. However, we came across a little building with the lights still on and an open door. Inside, a few people browsed among glass cases filled with a fascinating collection of plant-derived products, from blocks of compressed tea to pith helmets. There was a lovely little machine where you could twiddle a knob to hear different musical instruments – pan pipes, lutes and a wooden xylophone. It made a delightful mini-concert.

‘What are you all doing in here? Now you’ll have to leave by the Victoria Gate!’

An indignant attendant had found us. At his insistence we walked in the opposite direction to that we’d been following until we saw the lights of a huge Christmas tree. It was at the entrance where we’d first come in. I looked into a shop and a café whose floor was strewn with debris like the aftermath of an invasion. It was the same in the toilets. I was glad after all that we hadn’t been there earlier. There’s something magical about Kew in the dark, walking under the shadowy outlines of exotic trees - especially when it’s free and you know you shouldn’t really be in there.

All about the Gardens at Kew:

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