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Kew Gardens: Temperate House

Historic Kew Gardens houses the world's largest and most fascinating botanical collection, with up to 30,000 different species of plants thriving at its 121-hectare site in Richmond, London.

Kew Gardens

More than 1.35 million tourists visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site each year, making it one of the top visitor destinations in London. It is also home to the famous Temperate House, which has reopened to the public this year following a £41 million refurbishment.

Temperate House is home to one of the world's most important collection of rubber trees, many of which were planted in the 19th century. The first successful efforts to propagate and cultivate rubber trees outside South America were carried out at Kew Gardens in the mid-1800s.

 

History

Kew Gardens, otherwise known as the Royal Botanic Gardens, was officially founded in 1840, although the site dates back to 1772, when the royal estates of Richmond and Kew merged together. Henry VII had built Richmond Palace in 1501 as his royal residence and courtiers began to settle in the Kew district in their own luxurious houses.

In the late 18th century, architect William Chambers designed and built the garden structures, with further enhancements carried out by George III, who added the brick structure known as Kew Palace.

 

Plants' origins

Many of the earlier plants were gathered from botanist William Coys' walled garden in North Ockendon. In 1771, Francis Masson was appointed as the first plant collector, tasked with putting the plants into an aesthetically-pleasing design, rather than their previous rather haphazard arrangements.

The Royal Horticultural Society's president, William Cavendish, pushed for Kew Gardens to become an official national botanical garden. The gardens were launched in 1840 and subsequently, William Hooker, director of Kew Gardens, increased the arboretum's size to 109 hectares and the gardens to 30 hectares.

In addition to the 30,000 species of plants flourishing at Kew today, its herbarium is home to more than seven million preserved specimens.

 

Temperate House

The Temperate House, a Grade I listed building, dates from the 19th century and is the largest Victorian glasshouse in existence today. It was built as part of a 19th century experiment to successfully cultivate rubber trees outside South America - a feat that had never been achieved before.

The rubber tree is a South American tropical tree, widely cultivated on plantations in the 19th century. The milky liquid oozing from the tree bark contains around 30% rubber. This can be collected and processed into solid products, including tyres and rubber mats, or other items such as surgical gloves.

Today, Temperate House is home to many endangered species, such as the Morrisby’s gum tree. The species is endemic to Tasmania, but there are only two natural populations, containing a total of 2,000 plants. The species is threatened in the wild by agricultural expansion.

The specimens of Morrisby’s gum tree in Temperate House have been cultivated from seeds collected in the wild by the Tasmanian Seed Conservation Centre. The Kew Gardens' specimens should be ready to be harvested by 2027 and the seeds will be added to the Millennium Seed Bank in Wakehurst.

In 2013, a £41 million, five-year refurbishment of Temperate House began. The attraction reopened to the public on 6th May following completion of the major project.


The collection of temperate zone plants has international importance, as it includes the rarest plants in the world and a number of threatened species.

 

Science

With 750 employees, Kew Gardens is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens - a botanical research and educational body sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science plays an important role in the continued existence of Kew Gardens. Scientists say the core purpose of Kew Gardens' scientific research stems from the fact that plants and fungi are vital to everyone's lives on earth.

The attraction is an important global resource, combining scientific expertise and data bases with extensive collections and global partnerships.

There's something for everyone at Kew Gardens and it's a great place to go for a family day out this summer.

 

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