Interview with: Kew Gardens

August 15, 2014 9:00 am

Kew Gardens is one of London’s most popular attractions situated in the leafy suburbs of Richmond, West London. We should give thanks to ‘mad’ King George III who, together with his wife Charlotte, commissioned Kew gardens to become what it is today.

With 121 hectares, a glass house, lakes, tree walks and nature trails – it’s no wonder Kew Gardens is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular things to do in London. We spoke to Wesley Shaw, Palm House manager at Kew Gardens, to get more insight in what it’s really like behind-the-scenes at Kew and what it feels like to work in one of the best gardens in the world.

What inspired you to work at Kew Gardens?

Kew had the most diverse plant collection in the UK and for a gardener like me, who is naturally really into plants, it is just the best place to work. Kew contains the rarest and most unusual plants you are ever likely to come across.

How long have you been working at Kew Gardens?

Over eleven years now… Kew is a special place; there are some great people who work here and there’s a really great team effort.

Why in your opinion, is Kew Gardens unlike any others of its kind in London?

Kew Gardens is about the plants, of course; but it is more than that. We’ve got the science aspect of it and you have to appreciate all the research that goes on, too. In total, there’s the laboratory, we have art galleries and restaurants – the gardens come with the whole package.

What do you think most attracts tourists and visitors to come to Kew Gardens?

It’s obvious! Tourists come for the plants and to have a nice day out. Especially in the summer, everyone loves relaxing in the sun and enjoying everything Kew has to offer.

How easy is it to maintain the gardens at Kew?

It takes a lot of work. It takes a large workforce to keep everything looking good throughout the year. It is difficult and a challenge, but I think we all rise to it and do a pretty good job.

Kew Gardens is made up of a number of different gardens – do you have a favourite and if so, why?

I’d have to say the Palmhouse really, because that is my domain. The Palmhouse is Kew’s iconic glasshouse, it is the one you see on all the pictures. It is the oldest of the glasshouses here at Kew, built back in 1844. Architecturally it is very important, it is a beautiful building home to a selection of tropical plants. Here we represent the habitat of a tropical rainforest. We keep the temperatures high and humid to grow plants from all over the tropics. We have a lot of important economic plants – so they would be things that people use every day in terms of medicine and clothes and food.

Unlike other areas of the gardens, in the Palmhouse, we deal more with education than conservation. Conservation goes on behind the scenes, but with the plants in the garden, we try to tell visitors about the plants and how they are used so that people can both enjoy but learn about what they are experiencing.

What plants or flowers do you plan to grow ahead of the summer season?

The Palmhouse is really a static collection; it doesn’t change that much. We have a seasonal display in the water lily house, which I also manage, but that’s more of a floral tropical display.

What hints and tips are you asked by visitors who come to Kew Gardens?

Working in the Palmhouse, we get lots of questions mainly about how to manage and grow house plants, so we always give people tips on the best way of doing that. There’s a lot of inspiration to be had from the Palmhouse.

You must have had a few celebrity visitors at Kew Gardens?

We’ve had Bradley Wiggins who did a photoshoot here in Kew. We’ve also had the top model, Lily Cole, come for a visit and Dido was here a few years ago. Because it’s not your typical garden, or park, there is so much going on here all the time – it always keeps things fresh and interesting. I suppose the last celebrity we had was James Cracknell doing a Question of Sport!

Visit Kew Gardens for free with The London Pass – pay nothing and explore the huge gardens for the perfect family day out.

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