Kew Royal Botanic Gardens was the destination of our class trip today, on this rainy Friday morning.
The site dates back to 1759, when the land was privately owned and used by various members of the Royal Family, and in 1840, the gardens became a national botanic garden. The library opened in 1850, and today has over 300,000 books, 7,000 periodicals, and over 2,000 illustrations and prints. The archive contains over 7 million sheets of paper, mostly pertaining to botany and the origins of Kew, and the herbarium houses 7 – 8 million specimens at any given time, adding approximately 30,000 new species per year.
One of the questions someone in the class almost always inevitably asks is “What is the oldest item in your collection?” (because who doesn’t want to know that fun fact?) It turns out, the oldest item in Kew’s collection dates
back to 1370, is written in Latin, and discusses the uses of plants for medicinal purposes. Many books in the collection today are still used for scientific purposes, and the various illustrations/prints we were shown were so vividly eye-catching and masterfully done. Illustrations were particularly important in the botany world, for numerous reasons, one of which was to allow the general public (who were often illiterate) the chance to learn about these plants.
Beatrix Potter, beloved children’s author and creator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was also an amateur scientist who visited Kew. She primarily studied fungi reproduction, but was disregarded by the men of Kew as being merely an amateur and a woman. Typical! There is some speculation that perhaps she would have left some of her collections at Kew if the “powers that be,” aka the men in charge, had been a bit nicer to her.
Our class was then treated to a lecture by Andrew Wiltshire, who is a member of the Beatrix Potter Society, and whose family has an interesting connection to Beatrix Potter. During her life, Beatrix kept a diary, which was written in a code that she herself created; in the late 1950’s, the diary’s code was finally cracked by a man named Leslie Linder, who Andrew Wiltshire knew. Mr. Wiltshire was very dapper and charming, and I think we all enjoyed hearing about his various familial connections to Leslie Linder and Beatrix Potter.
Once the lecture ended, we all had a chance to explore the vast gardens for ourselves.
The girls and I toured Kew Palace, one of
the Historic Royal Palaces. The current palace, the third one on site, was partially designed by King George III, and has undergone extensive renovations in recent years. Both the palace and the grounds are quite majestic – there is so much green everywhere you look and an abundance of flowers. I’m so thankful we’re here during the summer when the weather is nice, and flowers are actually blooming! The gardens are full of various attractions, including the Palm House, which is a greenhouse full of exotic plants from around the world. There is also the Great Pagoda, which was built in 1762, and stands an impressive 10 stories high. However, I think my favorite activity of the day was the Treetop Walkway, which is approximately 60 feet off the ground and takes one up into the canopy of a wooded area in the gardens. The views were spectacular, and I loved being amongst the trees.
I could have spent many hours wandering amongst the gardens… We even saw a fox at one point! And Laura Douglass and I discovered the oldest tree in the gardens. After many hours of exploring, we finally decided it was time to head back to London because we need to begin brainstorming topic ideas for our research papers. We also have to start thinking about our trip to Scotland, which we leave for in just 2 days! Packing will be tricky because not only will I be going to Scotland for 4 days, but then Jessica, Laura Douglass, and I will then leave Edinburgh and fly straight to Dublin, where we’ll spend 2 days + take a 3 day tour of Northern Ireland! So I need to pack 9 day’s worth of clothes and toiletries into a carry-on bag. This might prove to be a breeze for some people, but for over packers like me, I know it’ll be a challenge!
Wish me luck,