History of the Library

The Kewensia collection


Sources elsewhere

The Kewensia collection

Kewensia means "things about Kew". The Kewensia collection contains information about the Royal Botanic Gardens: their history, buildings and activities. The collection comprises mostly  books, pamphlets, maps, plans and pictures.


The book collection consists of published and unpublished material about Kew. The series begins with annual reports and contains the whole series of guidebooks for the gardens, general works about Kew, reminiscences by past employees, and biographies of notable people associated with Kew. Information about Kew's activities can be found here: taxonomy, education and marketing, for example; along with official reports by other bodies on Kew's work.  The collection houses books and articles about the buildings and features in the Gardens; as well as works on the surrounding areas of Kew and Richmond.

Pamphlets & cuttings

The pamphlets contain articles and newspaper cuttings and other small items related to Kew, its work and history. Some of the main categories covered are: general works on Kew, events, biography, specific plants, education, scientific work, birds, animals and insects in the gardens, horticulture in the gardens, commercial activity, as well as sections for all the areas, buildings and features in the gardens.

Maps & plans

The maps and plans range from the mid-eighteenth century to the present day, and include sketches made for the redesigning of the gardens made in the eighteenth century, early etched and illustrated plans, early Ordnance Survey maps, modern key plans and many other items. There are also plans of the various buildings and glasshouses, in some cases dating from the time of their construction.


The picture collection is stored on CD-ROM and has similar categories to the other Kewensia collections: events and visits, storm damage, educational activities, horticultural methods and equipment, as well as all the notable parts of the gardens. Some prints and original paintings are curated as part of the Illustrations collection.


Requests for access to Kewensia material should be referred in the first instance to the Archives.


The standard history of the Royal Botanic Gardens is Ray Desmond's Kew: The History of the Royal Botanic Gardens. London : Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 2007 (2nd Edition).

Other general historical works

Bean, W.J. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: historical & descriptive. London : Cassell, 1908.

Blunt, W. In for a penny: a prospect of Kew Gardens, their flora, fauna and falballas. London : Hamish Hamilton, 1978.

Hepper, F.N., ed. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Gardens for science and pleasure. London : HMSO, 1982.

King, Ronald. Royal Kew. London : Constable, 1985.

Turrill, W.B. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, past & present. London : Herbert Jenkins 1959.

Sources elsewhere

The Economic Botany collection houses 80,000 plant raw materials and artefacts dating from the 1840s to the current day, including many specimens collected by historically important plant collectors and explorers.

Visit the Collection's web page

There are also significant collections of material relating to the Royal Botanic Gardens in the following repositories:

  • The National Archives (and its online catalogue) - particularly useful for information relating to large projects, such as the Palm House. It also holds material relating to the early history of Kew, when it became part of the Department of Woods and Forests in 1841.
  • The Royal Archives at  Windsor Castle (no website) - for the period before 1841 (when Kew became a publicly-funded institution)

You can find material relating to specific individuals in the National Register of Archives, which is maintained by the Historic Manuscripts Commission.
The HMC also maintains a list of contact details for other archive repositories in the United Kingdom called ARCHON.

Two useful printed works for locating archival material are:

Desmond, Ray. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturalists : including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. London : Taylor & Francis Ltd and The Natural History Museum, 1994.

Bridson, Gavin D.R. et al, ed. Natural history manuscript resources in the British Isles. London : Mansell ; New York : R. R. Bowker Co., 1980.

Both of these works also have helpful geographical indexes.