Kew's first botanic garden
Botanic Gardens have a long history in the UK, beginning with the
foundation of the Oxford Botanic Garden in 1621 and the Apothecaries’
Garden (Chelsea Physic Garden) in 1673. However, the earliest roots
of such gardens were in Italy, with the first formal Botanic Garden
founded in Pisa in 1543, closely followed by those at Padua (1545)
and Florence (1550). These early botanic gardens were designed as
medicinal teaching collections. The Pisa garden is of particular
interest as not only was an early herbarium begun there by Ghini,
but it was also the instigator of a number of botanical expeditions
in the north of Italy.
Over the succeeding centuries the European botanic gardens became
increasingly tied in with the expanding empires and colonial exploration,
and seeds and plants were sent back to the gardens from all over
Private collections became important status symbols for the wealthy
during the 18th century, a time when scientific exploration was
part of the discourse of nobility. Some gardens were eclectic, intending
to be as diverse as possible, whilst others were closely supervised,
ordered and maintained.
In 1759, Princess Augusta and Lord Bute established the first botanic
garden at Kew, employing William Aiton as the gardener. The Physic
or Exotic Garden is the direct ancestor of today's establishment
and this date is now accepted as the foundation of the Royal Botanic
The Physic or Exotic Garden was one of a number of small formal
gardens at the north end of the Site and incorporated Chambers'
Great Stove - a hot house that continued to function for exactly
a century, until it was finally superseded by the Temperate House.
The Great Stove was demolished in 1861 and the huge and ancient
wisteria that once grew across its eastern end now marks its site
near the present Secluded Garden.
The garden in William Aiton's charge covered an area of about 10
acres (4 hectares) and was devoted to medicinal plantings. It continued
to grow and flourish under Aiton's care and Princess Augusta's patronage,
but it was not until after her death in 1772 that Sir Joseph Banks
began his involvement with the site and it developed an international
significance in its own right.
to: 1700-1772: Two Royal Gardens