After months of agonising, I finally took the plunge earlier this year and bought a membership for Kew Gardens. We live reasonably close, but given that I’m already an RHS and National Trust member, it seemed like it might be overkill. But 4 years of visiting the same gardens have left me craving somewhere new, and when the new Temperate House opened, it was the final push I needed to take the plunge.
A single membership to Kew Gardens is great value for money if you have a young family, as you can bring in a guest with you for free, and children under 4 go free. So I bought my husband as my guest and we only had to pay £5 for Max. I can imagine that there are a lot of people wondering whether it’s worth taking your 4 year old to Kew Gardens – after all, preschoolers aren’t known for their love of plants or walking. But we found it a fantastic family day out and I was surprised by quite how much of the garden we were able to cover before Max became too tired.
We arrived for opening at 10am and parked at the Brentford Gate, where there is plenty of parking if you get there early. I’d planned out a rough route which I thought would work for both the things I wanted to see, and things which would interest Max too, as well as taking us near the cafe for lunchtime.
When we arrived, we headed past Kew Palace, and down the Broad Walk with it’s spectacular deep borders, to The Hive. The Hive is a multi-sensory installation designed by Wolfgang Buttress, intended to highlight the plight of the bee. It is surrounded by a wildflower meadow, and you follow a path through the wildflowers up to the hive itself. When you step inside the aluminium structure, you find yourself placed into a hive, and can look up and out through the top for a unique view. There are sounds and lights which change constantly, and it definitely captured Max’s interest (for as long as you can expect from a 4 year old anyway!).
The Hive led us out towards the Diana Princess of Wales Conservatory. As soon as we stepped in, Max declared it was “just like a desert”, and he was right – with cacti and exotic plants everywhere. It’s divided into different rooms to offer different temperatures, and Max loved choosing which path to follow. We discovered the amorphophallus titanum, or ‘corpse flower’, a plant which has the delightful feature of smelling like rotting flesh – it’s the huge green plant in the 4th picture down. Thankfully it wasn’t in bloom on our visit!
Max was fascinated with the enormous lily pads and the huge fish which swam beneath them. I think he’d happily have stayed there watching them and shouting “hello” for ages!
The next stop on my route was the Plant Family Beds as I knew the Rose Pergola would be looking beautiful. I wasn’t wrong, and the smell was amazing!
It was a short walk from the Plant Family Beds over to the Cafe at Victoria Gate, where we picked up a few bits to add to the picnic we’d bought with us. Food at Kew is very expensive, so if you’re watching the pennies, I’d definitely recommend taking your own!
I knew Max would need a bit of downtime after lunch, and I’d cunningly planned it so that we could pick up the land train from outside the cafe. He’d already spotted it as we were having lunch and was clearly desperate to go on it.
The Kew Explorer Land Train is an additional cost, and will set you back £5 for an adult and £2 for a child. It lasts around 40 minutes, and your tickets are valid all day, so you can ride it all the way round and listen to the commentary, and then hop on and hop off later in the day if you’re tired of walking. Max was hilarious for the first 15 minutes of the ride, exclaiming “This is the best ride EVER!” Which to be honest, may have been overstating it just a bit. But it was a nice way to see the whole garden, which let’s face it, when you have kids, you’re not likely to in one day otherwise. But towards the end he became quieter and less enthusiastic, and then finally announced, “I’m bored now”. So we pulled out the usual parent bribe and promised him an ice cream as soon as we were back at the cafe.
I’m a huge lover of glasshouses, and the ones at Kew really are spectacular, so I had planned to visit both the Palm House and the newly opened Temperate House in the afternoon. As much as I love the beauty of the Temperate House (which I’d already visited before this trip), there is something really charming about the flaking paint in the Palm House. You feel the humidity of the Palm House as soon as you walk in, and I love the lush planting. Max loved feeling like he was in a jungle and choosing which way we should go. And he even made it up and down the spiral staircases without any problems.
The Temperate House really is something special though. It’s the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world and it’s been undergoing renovation for years. I don’t think there can be any denying that it looks absolutely stunning now. I love the light and airy feel as you walk through.
It was clear by this point that Max was starting to get tired, so we decided to call it a day and head home. He did require a bit of a riding on Daddy’s shoulders to get back to the car, but we made it in the end!
So, would I recommend Kew Gardens for a 4 year old, given the £5 entry fee? Absolutely! We had a fantastic day out as a family, and we managed to do things that interested us all. And come spring 2019, there will be a brand new Children’s Garden, which looks from the plans like it will be a fantastic space.