It’s no secret that my favorite place in the entire city of London is Kew Gardens. By far, it is my most visited place, and I absolutely love walking the tree-covered pathways and over the well-kept green lawns. There is no comparison to the gorgeous gardens in spring when everything is in bloom.
I remember when we first got to London in early 2014 roaming over to Kew in our jackets and gloves to see what it was all about. Since then, walking into the Princess Diana Conservatory, marveling at the massive Red Woods, and staring open-mouthed at the peacocks strolling around has been a highlight. It did take a couple of visits to see everything and that includes the red/orange bricked Kew Palace which is where King George III was sequestered during his “madness.” I love seeing this beautiful mansion each time I visit, but there was one more place inside this compound that kept alluding me: Queen Charlotte’s Cottage.
Back in the depths of the gardens is a fork in the path. To the right is a continuation of asphalt, but to the left is gravel and trail dust. Taking this secluded path even further back into gardens feels more like a nature hike, but eventually, you find yourself at a small, thatch-roof cottage with views only of trees and wilderness. I could not imagine any better place to put a private home while your husband and king continued to go mad in the palace a few kilometers away.
But each time I made my way to this cottage, it was closed to the public. For two years, I walked by the cottage and just stared at it, wondering what was behind the shuttered windows and locked doors. Well, finally, the stars aligned, and I made it to the gardens when the cottage was open! I was thrilled to finally walk in the halls where Queen Charlotte went for respite.
Yes, after waiting two years and a lot of imagining what it would be like, it was a bit of a letdown. I had really let my imagination go wild, but taking a step back, I realized how amazing it was to still have this home in as good of a condition as it currently stands.
Queen Charlotte’s Cottage was built between 1754 and 1771 within the formerly known “New Menagerie” on the grounds of Kew. This area held exotic animals such as black swans, buffaloes, kangaroos, and zebras. The formerly known “Richmond Lodge” was given to Queen Charlotte as a part of her marriage agreement with King George III, and it was the pride of Queen Charlotte for much of the 1770s.
The first room you walk into is covered in floor to ceiling satirical print engravings, mostly done by William Hogarth. There are over 150 of them lining up and down the walls dating the interior to the times.
Then, you climb the stairs to the Picnic Room where an intricate and ornate painting of flowers and vines decorate the walls. These designs were painted by Queen Charlotte’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth. Unfortunately, because King George III’s illness continued to progress, he never saw his daughter’s artwork, and in 1818, the family discontinued its use of the cottage. In the same year, Queen Charlotte died inside Kew Palace, sitting in a leather chair still on display. Then two years later, King George III passed away.
When Queen Victoria came into power, she gave most of Kew Gardens to the public, but she kept the Cottage for her own summer house. She rarely used it (she had just completely renovated Buckingham Palace, after all), and in 1887, she gave the Cottage to the public as well.
After the Picnic Room, you go straight back downstairs and see the tiny kitchen the servants had to work with in entertaining the royals. Much smaller than our own kitchen, it is a wonder they were able to sate royal appetites using such limited space, but clearly it was done a time or two.
It wasn’t much to see, but after multiple trips to the cottage, hoping it was open, I finally got to walk in and see it in its preserved glory. I loved it.
For those making a trip to Kew in the summer months, the cottage is only open on the weekends and on bank holidays from 11am to 4pm.
Kew Gardens in the spring is the absolute best time to go. Everything is in bloom and the colors are out of this world. But the main thing that draws me week after week to the grounds is the tense anticipation of the blooming cherry blossoms.
— Matuso Basho
Right behind the Palm House in the center of Kew Gardens is a pathway called the Cherry Walk. For a few short weeks in April, this walk is intoxicating with its white and pink blossoms flooding the grounds. I am completely fascinated by these delicate flowers and have taken countless photos of them thinking that they will disappear before my very eyes if I don’t get one more image. But that becomes a reality when I come back a few days later and half of the trees are now browning or naked.
As you walk down a little ways more to the Temperate House, still under intense renovations and covered in scaffolding, is another path that is lined with pink cherry blossoms. When the Cherry Walk was in bloom, these delicate petals were still hibernating, but now, they are completely open and ready to soak in the illusive sunlight.
“The perfect blossom is a rare thing.
You could spend your whole life looking for one,
and it would not be a wasted life”
— The Last Samurai
My husband has said he’s “over Kew Gardens” because I take him there all the time, but I will never be “over” Kew Gardens. Every time I go, there is something else to see: a new color, a new bloom, a new undiscovered pocket of nature.
Just last week, I finally walked into a small greenhouse I hadn’t ventured inside before. What I saw floored me. It was a full pond with water lilies the size of car tires. The flowers were gorgeous and tropical, and the stripes on the lily pads were purple and green resembling a tiger’s stripes. It was so beautiful. My camera instantly fogged inbetween the cold and warm air, but I still managed to capture more frames of beauty.
One last area of the park that had remained undiscovered by me was inside the Palm House. For months, I kept saying I’ll go inside eventually. Well, eventually finally came, and I ventured inside and up the rusted, white staircases to the tip tops of the palm and banana trees. I love seeing the exotic among the English landscape, but what was even more interesting is when you go down underground, you’re surrounded by a tropical fish aquarium. It was nothing overly special or breathtaking, but it took me by surprise at its randomness.
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, Kew Gardens is not to be missed by anyone living, visiting, or traipsing through London. By far, it is my favorite place to go and see nature at its finest. And if you plan on visiting multiple times, the Friends of Kew Membership is worth its price in gold.
Pretending to drink
Sake from my fan,
Sprinkled with cherry petals.
— Matsuo Basho
For a fun film taken in 1942 around Kew Gardens, click on the video below.