I visited the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in August 2013, just before the planned Temperate House refurbishment programme began and this Victorian glasshouse, with its shabby chic but regal splendour was closed to the public. I watched nervously as Kew staff wheeled containers and decorative, heavy looking display items out of the glasshouse. Back in 2013, the planned reopening date seemed so far into the future, 2018 sounded somewhat space age then, but now, here I am delivered safely to this date, with the good fortune to be here at Kew to see the Temperate House on the day of its reopening! Hooray!
In 2013, when the Temperate House at the Royal Botanical Gardens, at Kew, was closing for its renovation, 500 of the plants that were growing inside this glasshouse were carefully uprooted and rehomed. By this time, all of the Temperate House’s plants had all been proactively propagated, to ensure their progeny would be ready for their new home. Thousands of cuttings had been taken and were growing away, and thousands of seeds had been collected and sown. Many of the Temperate House’s plants were replanted temporarily inside other glasshouses at Kew, with the aim of being replanted back inside the Temperate House once the remedial works had been completed. A number of the plants that were removed from the Temperate House were planted directly in the gardens at Kew, as global warming has now enabled these plants, which previously could only survive with the added protection of the structure of the Temperate House and its heating system, to now thrive outdoors, without any protection whatsoever! A small number of the plants that were growing inside the Temperate House before the restoration works commenced remained at their posts, continuing stoically on inside the glasshouse under their own protective polytunnels, throughout the lengthy period of this glasshouse’s refurbishment. The plants that survived this epic battle are now celebrating this victory, basking in their glory and in the new world that Kew have created for them.
Stretching out over 300 acres, the gardens at Kew are vast. The enormity of the gardens combined with the Temperate House’s somewhat out of the way location means that you can happily wander around Kew without catching sight of this grand, rather regal looking glasshouse. The site for the Temperate House was chosen so that as visitors alighted from the proposed new railway station, which had been expected to be built in an avenue opposite, the Temperate House would be the first attraction that they would see. However, the new railway station actually ended up being built 500 yards in the other direction, leaving the Temperate House as a hidden treasure, albeit one that’s signposted. The Temperate House has been closed for refurbishment for the past five years, so visitors have been unable to visit, but today the newly refurbished Temperate House has been opened and unveiled. Visitors can now again enter into this magical plant wonderland, full of temperate plants from the Americas, Asia, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, including important medicinal plant species and rare and critically endangered plant species!
The Temperate House at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, was designed by the acclaimed English Architect Decimus Burton; Decimus also designed Kew’s iconic Palm House, and the layout of the gardens at Kew, as they were set out during the Victorian era. The Temperate House spans an area that extends to 4,880 square meters, it is the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world! To give you a better idea of this Victorian glasshouse’s vast proportions, the Temperate House is twice the size of Kew’s Palm House, the tent like structure that covered the Temperate House during its restoration was large enough to accommodate three Boeing 747s!
The first part of the Temperate House to be finished was opened to the public in 1863, but this first central part of the glasshouse went over its allocated budget and due to financial struggles and set backs the full glasshouse that we see today was not built at this time. The construction works for the Temperate House continued on for nearly 40 years, eventually the Temperate House was finally completed in its entirety in 1899, forming the full structure that we celebrate today!
As part of a huge project that started in 2012, the entire Temperate House has undergone an extensive, full refurbishment. To protect the glasshouse during the work, the Temperate House was clad in 180 km of birdcage scaffolding – which would be sufficient to cover the length of M25! The Temperate House’s glass was removed and 150,000 planes of glass were replaced, the frame was sandblasted, and the entire structure repainted. Finally, in May 2018, after a closure of just under 5 years, we can now celebrate the reopening of the Temperate House! We can now finally experience the same delight that the Victorians would have felt in 1863, seeing this magnificent glasshouse as a newly opened, beautifully finished product, which will now hold a greater collection of rare, important, interesting and exciting plant species than ever before! Thank goodness for the individuals, companies, charities, and organisations who funded the restoration of the Temperate House, hooray for you all! Thank you also to the fund raisers who worked to secure the necessary monies to enable this vital but extensive, expensive project to go ahead!
As part of the Temperate House project, the Evolution House, which was formerly known as the Australian House, has now been transformed into an engagement centre to provide Kew’s visitors with the opportunity of learning more about plant conservation. The Davies Exploration House, which first opened in 1952, has now been restored and replanted with temperate plants from Western Australia.
Kew estimate that over 400 individuals have contributed to the Temperate House project, including contractors, apprentices, as well as the staff at Kew. Working behind the scenes at Kew, the Tropical Nursery Supervisor Rebecca Hilgenhof, and a previous Kew employee, Andrew Luke, were the two main propagators of the plants for the Temperate House. These horticulturists worked tirelessly to sow and grow the thousands of extraordinarily rare, and often difficult to propagate plants that now fill this refurbished glasshouse. There are all kinds of other stalwarts who have helped in a great many ways during the Temperate House’s rebirth at Kew, including Kew’s Public Glasshouses Co-Ordinator, Nick Johnson, who has also grown and chosen plants to fill inside this vast glasshouse and has been involved with the project since its inception. Last, but by no means least, the Temperate House Supervisor, Scott Taylor, who co-ordinated and oversaw this project.
For the Temperate House to be open to visitors and to continue to be a vital part of plant conservation across the globe these lengthy and costly refurbishment works were necessary. The restoration of the Temperate House would not have been possible without the funding received from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Defra, Eddie and Sue Davies, The Garfield Weston Foundation, The Wolfson Foundation, The Linbury Trust, The Hartnett Conservation Trust, and other supporters.
Many private individuals also contributed towards the refurbishment of the Temperate House. Thank you to each and everyone of you that financially supported this project. If you would like to donate to Kew, to contribute towards and support Kew’s work and research in plant science and plant conservation across the globe, please click here.
The donors supporting the Horticultural and Construction Apprenticeships, included the J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, the Buffini Chao Foundation, Make My Day Better, The Ingram Trust, the Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation, the Finnis Scott Foundation, the Ernest Cook Trust, CHK Charities Limited, the Sandra Charitable Trust, the Vandervell Foundation, the Radcliffe Trust, the Eranda Foundation, the Worshipful Company of Gardeners, the Lake House Charitable Foundation, the Helen Hamlyn Trust, and the February Foundation.
Thank you to everyone who worked on and financially supported the Temperate House project. Congratulations to you all!
Other articles that may interest you…………
To read about the largest orchid in the world and see its flowering at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, please click here.
For information on the best places to see bluebells, please click here.
To see photographs of Kew Gardens’ Thailand themed Orchid Festival, please click here.
To read my interview with Scott Taylor, the Supervisor of the Temperate House, please click here.