Then I entered Kew Gardens, grumbling a bit to myself about the price of the ticket (£13.50, or about $21). At the end of the day, I was feeling that the ticket was a bargain, and I didn't mind a bit paying it again tomorrow – as I've decided not to go to the British Museum, as originally planned, but to instead spend a second day at the Kew Gardens. They are just too beautiful to miss.
I spent a little over 6 hours today wandering around about a third of the Kew Gardens' area (though I did hit most of the “highlights” called out on the map). It was simply awesome. In almost every case, for any individual collection on display, it's the equal or better of any arborteum or garden I've ever seen. Just about the only exceptions I can think of are Wrigley's succulent collection and Quail Gardens South African collection. Now I certainly haven't been to every arboretum and garden in America, so I could be missing some other great ones. But I also haven't seen all of the Kew Gardens collection on display – and that's just the collection on display. They have much more, their literature says, in their propagation and nursery facilities. But here's the real point to consider: every collection I've seen at Kew is world class. They're not just specializing, like the Wrigley Gardens on Catalina Island. They do this across the board.
And in some cases, what they do I'm pretty sure isn't equalled anywhere else. For example, they have an awesome collection of arctic and sub-arctic dwarf plants. How do they manage to do that in London, which is about 10 inches above sea level? Why, they build a refrigerated and dehumidified glasshouse! I'm not kidding, they really did! Another example: they have a collection of tree ferns (Australian and Pacific) that makes you think you're walking around in one of the tree fern forests of Hawai'i. Some of the tree ferns are 30 feet high. How'd they do that in London? You guessed it – a glasshouse that is heated and humidified to make the tree ferns happy. I've visited three glasshouses so far. One of them is a collection of glasshouses all adjacent to one another, each with a different climate inside. In the space of a few minutes, you walk from tropical rainforest to temperate desert.
My favorite part so far is their rock garden. Saying it like that evokes an image of a wall or two, nicely planted. Uh, no. Try two to three acres of immaculately laid out rock gardens, planted and labeled in loving detail, complete with lovely paths, water features, etc. I could easily spend an entire day in that rock garden (and I may just do so tomorrow!). It is simply gorgeous; a magnificent feat of horticultural art and a display of science at the same time. A not-to-be-missed tour de force.
And there's so much more, too much to describe in detail here. Some highlights, though. There are benches and picnic tables located in attractive spots all over the grounds. There is an elevated walkway in a patch of forest; you climb a spiral staircase and then you're in the treetops – and you can walk around amongst them. Two of the glasshouses have an elevated walk high up. Again, you take a spiral staircase to get up there, then you're walking around in the canopy of a tropical rainforest. There's a beautiful small lake, landscaped all round, surrounded by an expansive park with beautiful large tree specimens and grassy prospects. Birds are abundant throughout the park, including geese, swans, many songbirds, and (most unexpectedly) green parrots. Oh, I could go on and on, but I'll stop. Here's the photos. Please forgive the technical crappiness – I don't have my real camera with me; these were all taken with a crackberry's primitive claims-to-be-camera. Click to enlarge, as usual...