A Family Visit to Kew Gardens in Summer

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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.


Kew Palace at Kew Gardens

View of the Broad Walk Border at Kew Gardens in June, with salvia and allium in bloom

 

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!).

 

Close up of purple thistles in the wildflower meadow at The Hive, Kew Gardens

Little boy dressed in blue t-shirt and hat, running up path through the wildflower meadow at Kew Gardens

Close up of daisies in the wildflower meadow at Kew Gardens

View in The Hive at Kew Gardens

Man and little boy stood in the middle of The Hive at Kew Gardens, looking up into the roof

Wildflower meadow at The Hive at Kew Gardens. Cow parsley and daisies

 

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!

 

View in the entrance of the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens

View down into pond of lily pads, with one flower in bloom

Exotic plant at Kew Gardens

amorphophallus titanum at Kew Gardens

Huge green lily pads at Kew Gardens, with bright pink edges

 

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!

 

Woman stood underneath the Rose Pergola at Kew Gardens, smelling the roses

The Rose Pergola at Kew Gardens in June

 

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 Land Train at Kew Gardens

Little boy sat on train, looking up at his Dad, wearing red sunglasses

Little boy in blue t-shirt and sunhat, carefully eating a strawberry ice cream

 

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.

 

View of The Palm House from across the lake at Kew Gardens

Spiral staircase in the Palm House at Kew Gardens, with man stood on stairs wearing a baby in a carrier

View of the roof of the Palm House at Kew Gardens

Little boy on spiral staircase at Kew Gardens

The Palm House at Kew Gardens

 

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.

 

The Temperate House at Kew Gardens, view down the pathway with a statue at the end

View of the spiral staircase at Kew Gardens

View from the balcony at the Temperate House at Kew Gardens

Brunette woman standing on the spiral staircase in the Temperate House at Kew Gardens

Temperate House at Kew Gardens

Pink geraniums in the Temperate House at Kew Gardens

Geraniums in pots along the window sills in the octagonal glasshouse in the Temperate House at Kew Gardens

 

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.

 

 

Is Kew Gardens worth it for a 4 year old