Kew Gardens' group visits blog
Welcome to Kew Gardens' groups visit blog.
Kew Gardens’ group bookings team is here to help you plan your day out. In this blog we’ll be introducing attractions and ideas for group travel organisers to help you make the most of your visit. Paul and Imogen look forward to helping you plan your trip. Contact us on 020 8332 5648 or by email on email@example.com.
The official title varies from year to year, but if you say to someone who works here, 'When is the big orchid display this year?', they’ll probably know what you mean! It’s an event we all look forward to.
So why not plan a group visit between 8 February and 9 March 2014, to brighten your winter with this blast of tropical splendour?
Tropical warmth and colour at Kew Gardens
The exhibition comes around just at that point in the year when we're getting a bit tired of cloudy skies and starting to watch out for the early crocuses. Suddenly here at Kew the Princess of Wales Conservatory is transformed into a feast for the eyes, with flower-clad pillars and arches of brilliant tropical colour. Next year once again the orchids will be back, and I’ve just seen some of the details for the planned displays.
One of the dramatic flower pillars in the 2012 orchid exhibition
The theme for next year’s festival is going to be great plant hunters of the past and present day. So, as well as the colourful displays and showcasing of rare species, there’ll be a chance to learn more both about the adventures of 19th century plant hunters and the dangers they faced, and about the work of modern Kew botanists studying rare and endangered orchids around the world. Come for the amazing spectacle of colour, and the tropical heat, and you’ll leave with a bit of history as well!
Orchids for your home
Since our shop at Victoria Plaza will be selling an extensive orchid range all through the festival, you can even buy these lovely plants for your home as well. Maybe look for something a bit more unusual or treat yourself to an exciting new cultivar, for some tropical colour for this coming year?
Walking through archways hung with tropical colour in the Princess of Wales Conservatory
Behind the scenes - learn more about Kew’s orchids
For a fascinating extra, why not book one of our Tropical Nursery tours? A knowledgeable guide from Kew Gardens’ award-winning team will take your group into areas not usually open to the public to see how our huge collections of orchids are managed, and learn more about the care and conservation of these glorious tropical plants.
Tours must be booked in advance and are available on Wednesdays from 12 February through 5 March 2014. For more details, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8332 5604.
- Imogen -
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As I write this, the first signs of autumn are appearing around me in the Gardens and, from the calls I’ve been getting in the office, it’s clear that group travel organisers are now thinking about their trips and activities for next year.
It’s particularly pleasing to have had enquiries about our new Christmas at Kew event (see Paul’s blog post from a few weeks ago) and about winter day trips. Because winter at Kew Gardens can be lovely, and the title of this post should give you a clue as to why!
A carpet of snowdrops
To begin with, we have plants here from all over the world, so something will always be blooming year-round in the glasshouses. But one of the pleasures of winters here is waiting to see how early one can spot the first signs of spring outdoors in the Gardens themselves.
Signs of spring appear again
There’s something particularly exciting about seeing flowers like snowdrops as they start to appear, bravely blooming whatever the weather.
So if you’re a member of a gardening club or a galanthophile club, why not make a late winter visit to Kew Gardens with your group part of your annual calendar, and enjoy these graceful harbingers of spring?
Galanthus elwesii in the Rock Garden
Giant snowdrops of Turkey
A favourite place for me to check is a spot in the Rock Garden. Under an elegant Japanese acer near the Davies Alpine House there’s a big clump of Galanthus elwesii, the giant snowdrop, native to the Taurus mountains in Turkey. It’s one of the earliest-flowering species, and this particular clump is often in bloom by late December. It always cheers me up no end, seeing these delicate beauties appear during the shortest and darkest days of the year, even flowering bravely through a blanket of snow.
Carpets of pure white
Then, from late January through most of February, the real spectacle starts to appear. Sweeping snow-white drifts of the common snowdrop, G. nivalis, carpet the ground near Queen Charlotte’s Cottage and the slopes of the Mound near the Palm House. It’s one of the best snowdrop displays in the London area and a real delight for eyes tired of seeing dead leaves and wintry greys everywhere.
Snowdrops and winter aconites blooming by Victoria Gate
Other winter beauties
At much the same time of year you can expect to see the perky golden flowers of the winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, appearing near Victoria Gate and peeping through the grass along Holly Walk. On the slopes on the Mediterranean Garden the witch hazels (Hamamelis species and cultivars) also come into bloom in January, with threadlike flowers spreading a delicious lemony scent in the cold air.
Colourful witch hazel in flower beside King William's Temple in the Mediterranean Garden
As well as several dozen snowdrop species, the Rock Garden is also home to beautiful winter-flowering cyclamen, and the nearby Davies Alpine House shows displays of delicate alpines from all over the world.
So don’t forget that garden clubs (and keen gardeners everywhere) can find so much to see year-round at Kew Gardens, where there will always be jewel-like colours and sweet scents, even in the depths of winter.
- Imogen -
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Kew Gardens has long been a royal playground, where King George III and Queen Charlotte brought up their 15 children in Britain’s smallest and most intimate royal palace and enjoyed summer picnics and entertainments in the grounds.
Prices held at 2012 levels
We’ve got some good news for group travel organisers planning a visit next year, as it’s just been confirmed that entry to Kew Palace and the Royal Kitchens will once again be available at no extra cost next year. Kew Palace is open throughout the summer; the opening dates for 2014 have now been set as Saturday 29 March to Sunday 28 September.
What’s more, it’s also been confirmed that 2014 ticket prices are going to be held for the third year running, with no price increase. So once again, if you book in advance for our 15% discount rate, your group tickets will cost you just £12.35 for adults and £10.65 for seniors and other concessions! If numbers aren’t certain till the day of your visit, our groups on-the-day rates will also remain at the 2012 rates for another year; that’s £13.05 for adults and £11.25 for concessions.
So why not plan a visit to Royal Kew?
The charming Kew Palace, family home of King George III and Queen Charlotte
Reminders of Kew Gardens' royal history
Kew Gardens was founded just over 250 years ago by the then Princess of Wales, Princess Augusta. Her son, the future King George III, would have known her little botanical garden intimately as he and his large family actually lived here. That first garden beside Kew Palace was just nine acres, compared to modern Kew Gardens’ 326-acre extent. Just like great oaks, great gardens from small beginnings grow!
As well as Kew Palace itself, another link to our royal past can be found with the Old Lions, venerable trees planted in Princess Augusta’s time which can still be found growing and thriving here today.
One of Kew's Old Lions, the oriental plane, Platanus orientalis, on Kew Palace lawn
So, if you like the idea of a royal walk at Kew, you can follow in the footsteps of Princess Augusta and King George III and his family, seeing cosy Kew Palace where they made their family home, and visiting trees they would have known as saplings.
For a final touch of Georgian style, why not take in some of the remaining follies built for the royal family to enjoy when they were living in Kew Palace? The little Temple of Aeolus, on the Mound by the Palm House Pond, and Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, away in the wooded Conservation Area, both date from this royal period in Kew Gardens’ history. Although visitors can’t normally go inside the famous ten-storey Pagoda, they can enjoy the handsome vertical accent it provides as the backdrop of many fine vistas and views.
The Pagoda, one of several impressive follies built by George III at Kew Gardens
Have afternoon tea where royal orange trees once grew
The elegant Orangery is another royal relic, as this was Kew’s first-ever hothouse, built for Princess Augusta in 1761. It didn’t work very well as a glasshouse (orange trees like much more light, apparently) and nowadays it’s used as our main restaurant. That means that even when you stop for mid-afternoon tea and cakes, you’ll still be following in the footsteps of past royalty.
Visitors having afternoon tea in the Orangery Restaurant
So as Britain marks the 300th anniversary of the start of the Georgian Era, what better place to visit than this former royal residence and the Gardens that owe their very existence to our royal founder?
A group enjoying the Waterlily House
- Imogen -
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Kew after dark
Kew Gardens will be opening after dark presenting an exciting new ticketed event: Christmas at Kew. Visitors will be able to stroll along an illuminated trail through our enchanting winter landscape as darkness falls in the late afternoon, enjoying a leisurely walk which should take around 1 ½ hours.
Christmas at Kew Gardens
Discounted tickets for groups
Knowing how popular our hot glasshouses are in winter, we’re offering discounted joint tickets exclusively for groups that combine a daytime visit with Christmas at Kew so that you can experience the best of both worlds – exotic rainforests by day and enchanting landscapes after dark.
Arrive as late as 1.30pm and depart by 6.30pm for a great Christmas group outing (although we encourage you to arrive as early as 9.30am and to stay until 10pm if you wish).
The joint ticket, giving a discount of 25% compared to buying each ticket separately, can be pre-booked through Kew Gardens’ group bookings office. Contact Imogen or Paul to discuss your visit and for more information and a booking form.
Tel. 0208 332 5648
Suggested Christmas at Kew itinerary for groups
To help plan your visit, we've put together a suggested itinerary:
1.30pm – Arrive at our Victoria Gate entrance on Kew Road. You can arrive at Kew Gardens anytime from 9.30am onwards. We recommend arriving no later than 1.30pm for enough time to enjoy all of the glasshouses.
Spend your first hour in our glasshouses: temperatures can reach up to 27°C. Start with the Palm House which replicates an exotic rainforest before heading to the Princess of Wales Conservatory with its ten climatic zones. Walk back to Victoria Plaza by 2.50pm to board the Kew Explorer.
3pm – Ride the Kew Explorer land train for a guided tour of Kew Gardens. There’s a live commentary pointing out highlights and sharing fun facts and history. You’ll arrive back at Victoria Plaza around 3.40pm. Group tickets for the Kew Explorer tour cost just £1.50 when pre-booked with your joint entry tickets.
Fans of botanical art may wish to visit our art galleries instead of taking the Kew Explorer tour. Wander along to the Marianne North Gallery to see fascinating paintings by this extraordinary Victorian lady traveller. Next door, the Shirley Sherwood Gallery is the first public gallery in the world dedicated to showing botanical art. The art galleries close at 3.45pm, so head back towards Victoria Plaza at that time.
4pm – Enjoy the Christmas Village at Victoria Plaza. As darkness falls, our Christmas tree and traditional decorations will create a lively atmosphere. Victoria Plaza Cafe will be open selling plenty of treats including homemade soup, delicious pies and hot drinks. A selection of Christmas market stalls and Kew Gardens’ shop will offer a range of exclusive gift ideas.
4.45pm – By booking joint tickets to Kew Gardens by day and Christmas at Kew after dark, you guarantee that your entire group can commence their walk through Kew-after-hours at 4.45pm. You’ll be walking a one mile trail which is wheelchair accessible and largely flat. The magical views are definitely worth the walk with dancing lakeside reflections and a mesmerising garden of fire bringing some of Kew’s iconic landmarks to life. There will be seating and a rest point with refreshments half way along the trail.
6.30pm – Gather at Victoria Plaza for a coach pick-up at 6.30 / 6.45pm.
So there, in five hours, is the perfect festive excursion! We think we’ve crammed a little too much in already, and that doesn’t even include the Alpine House House or treetop walkway.
Group Christmas lunch
Or, for a truly special Christmas visit, book your group Christmas lunch in the Orangery Restaurant. A two-course lunch can be booked from £15.50 and includes Norfolk Bronze roasted turkey with spiced cranberries, bacon and smoked walnut stuffing, crispy potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Private dining or reserved tables can be arranged. Contact Barbara Wutte at Peyton and Byrne to discuss lunch options to make your visit special, tel. 020 7412 5522.
Joint tickets for groups are available on these dates:
Thursday 28 November to Sunday 1 December
Thursday 5 December to Sunday 8 December
Thursday 12 December to Sunday 15 December
Thursday 19 December to Monday 23 December
Thursday 26 December to Saturday 4 January
Joint ticket prices and discount for groups
|Regular price||Group rate|
|Adults||£27||£19.75 (save £7.25)|
|Concessions||£25||£18.75 (save 6.25)|
- Paul -
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Autumn at Kew
Kew Gardens in autumn must be one of the most photogenic spots in London. With characteristic morning and evening mists, and earlier sunsets giving richly coloured skies towards the end of day, autumn must have some of the loveliest natural light of any season. Here at Kew, leaves and fruits are glowing, and fairy-like seed heads dance in the oblique autumn sun.
Golden autumn leaves of the maidenhair tree, Gingko biloba, at Kew Gardens
At almost any time from mid-September to early November you can hope to see autumnal colours somewhere in the Gardens. Asian maples and North American liquidambars and vines turn scarlet, and European species such as cherry trees and the graceful southern beeches from Australasia fade to glorious gold. Kew’s arboretum contains trees from all over the world, so the fall colour here is a global spectacle.
Vines on the terrace of the Pavilion Restaurant at Kew Gardens in their autumn foliage colours of scarlet and acid yellow
...and poetic vistas
Views open out as the leaves start to fall, and it’s one of the best times to take in the long vistas and panoramas. The autumn leaf-fall also opens up impressive views from the Xstrata Treetop Walkway, so make sure to climb to the top, and stroll through the tree canopy and take in the panorama of west London from 18 metres up.
For even more striking shots, don’t forget that you’ll find much of the autumn colour redoubled if you head to the Lake or the Palm House Pond for the reflections. Wildlife enthusiasts may like to know that you can often see migrant wildfowl on the Lake, as well as the resident population of swans and other water birds. Elsewhere, squirrels, jays and crows are collecting their stores of food for the winter, and even the resident peacocks are more approachable now the breeding season has passed.
Autumnal reflections in the waters of Kew's extensive Lake
Striking textures of autumn
For the happy owner of a macro lens, Kew Gardens offers a feast of textures and patterns. Look down as you walk, for rich mats of fallen leaves, nuts and beech-mast. Along the Broad Walk and Pagoda Vista you’ll find glossy brown and black conkers, sweet chestnuts and acorns on the ground. The crab apple trees behind the Waterlily House and by Victoria Gate café terrace are usually laden with scarlet fruits, and don’t miss the more unusual fruits of the sausage tree near Victoria Gate and the extraordinary osage oranges.
The weird fruits of the osage orange, Maclura pomifera, at Kew Gardens
Make sure to take in the Grass Garden, one of our hidden gems, where delicate grass seed heads of every form and colour shimmer in the oblique autumn sunshine. This small formal garden is packed with the rich textures and elegant forms of dozens of decorative grasses, from the vibrant red of Japanese blood grass to the silver-white heads of the giant pampas grass.
Delicate seed heads of Miscanthus grass in autumn
The nearby Duke’s Garden is a wonderful spot for floral colour, with stunning plantings of sneezeweeds, dahlias and sedums, salvias, penstemons and achilleas, all of them flowering until the first frosts. The striking tropical borders, too, are at the height of their growth in late summer.
All over the Gardens at this time of year you can see autumn-flowering bulbs like Cyclamen hederifolium, Colchicums and autumn crocus. They spring up among the limestone boulders of the Rock Garden and blossom in swathes along Holly Walk and beneath the pleached hornbeam alley behind Kew Palace.
For some more unusual flowers, head to the Davies Alpine House where the displays are changed regularly to showcase whatever is at its best; expect crimson gladioli from South Africa and golden Sternbergia lutea and dainty nerines as the autumn moves on, as well as the giant Madeiran squill and other fascinating plants from mountain regions worldwide.
A dramatic close-up of the striking lilac flower spikes of the giant Madeiran scilla, Scilla madeirensis, in the Davies Alpine House
Photo competition exhibition
As well as flowers, you can be inspired by award-winning images from International Garden Photographer of the Year 2013. From 5 October through 3 November Kew Gardens will be hosting an exhibition of the winners and shortlisted entrants to the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition. These eye-catching prints will be on display in the Nash Conservatory.
All in all, the one thing you mustn't forget on an autumn visit to Kew Gardens is a camera!
- Imogen -
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Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
Imogen Dent is the Group Bookings Coordinator at Kew Gardens and has been working here since 2005. Prior to coming to Kew she worked in a busy tourist information office, after graduating from art school in 2000. When you ring or email to make a group booking, she’ll probably be your first port of call.
Paul Chibeba is the Travel Trade and Group Bookings Manager. Paul joined Kew in 2012, returning to London after almost ten years in America. As travel trade manager, he is delighted to work with tour operators and travel planners from around the world to ensure that Kew is included in as many tours and packages as possible.
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