Many of Europe’s parks and gardens were created at the request of the kings, queens, princes and princesses who once ruled over the Old Continent. Some have exceptional qualities or stunning styles that put them on the map for visitors vacationing in Europe, such as the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in southwest London, UK.
The royal connection: Rather than being created by one individual, the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew were built over time. First of all, King Henry VII built a royal palace in Richmond in the 16th century as a summer residence (currently the west part of the gardens), before later developments from the Prince of Wales in 1731, Queen Caroline and Princess Augusta in 1751, and Georges III at the end of the 18th century.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: The Richmond and Kew estates that went on to form Kew Gardens were royal summer residences in the 16th century. In the 18th century, they were restructured at the request of Queen Caroline and Princess Augusta, who enlisted the help of Lord Bute and William Chambers to advise on botanical, architectural and gardening matters. Chambers revived the fashion for “Chinoiserie” styles of architecture in the garden, while Lord Bute and Princess Augusta established the first botanical garden at Kew in 1759.
George III enriched the gardens from 1773 with the help of Sir Joseph Banks, the unofficial director of Kew, who shared the idea of growing exotic and native plants for economic ends. After the death of the two men, the garden entered a 20-year period of decline. After that, the two gardens were combined into one landscaped entity and saw the arrival of two remarkable greenhouses, a herbarium and a national arboretum.
What to see: The 120-hectare site is home to six greenhouses and an extraordinary collection of plants, some of which are extremely rare. Examples include a species of cyca called encephalartos altensteinii, originating from South Africa, which has been growing for more than 200 years at Kew. It is thought to be one of the oldest potted plants in the world. All in all, there are more than 40,000 species to discover.
One unmissable stop on any trip to Kew is the Palm House, an ornate glass and iron greenhouse housing a unique collection of tropical and subtropical plants, including palms and other species from the world’s most threatened habitats. Kew Palace, the summer palace of King George III, is another emblematic sight.
For a scenic stroll, head to the 320m Great Broad Walk Borders. This thoroughfare, which leads to the Palm House, is lined with borders containing almost 30,000 plants. Those with a head for heights can explore the park and its leafy green canopy on Kew’s 200m treetop walkway, situated 18m above ground.