Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

After a morning dithering about our choices for a final afternoon's outing for the Easter weekend, we were rescued by a call from the equally desperate Andrew and Garry (my recently transplanted friends from Australia). We settled on a late lunch in Ealing and then a walk through Kew Gardens. Chris had intended to take Bondi and myself through Kew in December but we turned up at the gates to find that dogs are not admitted.

We waited for A&G outside South Ealing tube station, and spent some time talking to a Bondi-admirer who had spent the last 50 years living in Australia, but returned to the UK on occasion to satisfy his need to see some football. An ardent Arsenal supporter, he didn't have a game to visit this weekend so was off to support Brentford. The conversation drifted to the subject of Australian bushfires, and he said that while living near Lawson in the Blue Mountains, outside of Sydney, he had been warned of an impending bushfire. "Get your valuables together in a bag, and be ready to leave your house at any moment", he was told. "I'm not gathering 40 years' worth of Arsenal programs in a hurry", he replied.

As our group of 4 + dog approached Munson's cafe, I spotted blog-reader Nancy (waves) with a group of friends at some outside tables. My world compressed yet again as it turned out that she was with one of Andrew's office colleagues.
After lunch we dropped Bondi back at home and crossed the Thames to Kew Gardens. Being early spring, the gardens are far from being at their blooming best, but since I am so allergic to so much of that, it's probably a better time for me.

The Kew Gardens have a long history, but was properly set and guided on its trajectory to becoming one of the world's foremost botanical sites by Sir Joseph Banks. Banks, who travelled on Cook's voyages to Australia, and headed the Royal Society for 41 years, "seeded" the gardens with material collected from around the world, and worked with George III to develop the site and institution.

Unfortunately our visit today wasted at least 1/2 hour while queueing for ice-creams at what must be some of the most inefficiently organised food-service outlets I've encountered anywhere. Perhaps it's intended as a very dry pun on Kew/Queue, but it didn't impress many people who simply gave up and forsook lunch or refreshments that day. Maybe it was just the pervasive smell of stale cooking oils that really drew those that persisted.

We passed a small petting-farm, setup in a small enclosure for a week or so, until the various animals were ready to become club-sandwiches.

The highlight may have been the Temperate House, the world's largest surviving Victorian glass structure. It houses the world's largest indoor plant, a Chilean palm raised from seed in 1846, and now stands at 16m or more. One of the larger rooms has an elevated walkway that allows you to get a third-floor view of the glass-house contents. We also passed through the Evolution House, but didn't get to any of the other enclosures before the 5.30pm cutoff time.

Chris and I walked home via the Thames path running aside of Brentford. There's a lot of new housing development going on, but still a surprising amount of interesting old watercraft and weathered remains of buildings from the working river.

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