In 1898, Queen Victoria gave Queen Charlotte's Cottage to Kew on the proviso that its grounds should be left in a wild, natural state.
History and conservation
Largely, Queen Victoria's wishes for the grounds to be left in a wild, natural state have been granted, although some changes have taken place in the intervening years.
At the turn of the 20th century, several broad rides were carved through the area and around 185 trees were planted over the decades, along with lilies, snowdrops, primroses and narcissi. Today, together with Kew’s Conservation Area, the grounds form part of Kew’s 16-hectare Natural Areas.
Kew Gardens staff are working across the Natural Areas to restore historic rides, reclaim grassland from scrub, increase the amount of dead wood (to encourage insects) and plant new hedges. They are slowly removing non-British trees and plants, enabling native species to take root.
Many British trees grow in this area, including oak, beech, holly and yew. There are also a few rarities including the Plymouth pear (Pyrus cordata) and the Bristol mountain ash.
Kew regularly monitors fauna and flora in the Gardens. There are 40 resident bird species plus 30 seasonal visitors, 23 species of butterflies and nine species of dragonfly. There are also 400 native and naturalised wild flowers. In spring, native bluebells, wild garlic and snowdrops colour the ground.
Kew staff use traditional woodland management practices within the Natural Areas. These include using ‘coronet pruning’, which gives a jagged top to dead trees so that insects can hide in the nooks and crannies.
Things to look out for
In the far southwest section of the garden is a gravel pit. Created in the 1960s to provide gravel for the foundations of the Alpine House, it has since been colonised by badgers, bees and rare bog plants.
Between 2002 and 2005, Kew created a wildlife pond beside the gravel pit, with the help of local schoolchildren. They planted native species at its margins, such as greater reedmace (Typha latifolia) and branched bur-reed (Sparganium erectum). Waterboatman, mayfly and damselfly have subsequently made the pond their home. Visitors can observe both these features from a specially constructed viewing platform.
Giant wooden carvings of a frog, dragonfly and newt decorate the wildlife pond. Meanwhile, a giant stag beetle adorns the Stag Beetle Loggery, located on the southern edge of the Natural Areas.
Activities for children
Around the viewing platform are educational panels on topics such as the food chain (children can line up the arrows to indicate correct food chain links) and how to build a wildlife pond.
To help conserve plant and animal species in the Natural Areas, we ask visitors to keep to the hard-surfaced paths, the boardwalk and the elevated viewing platform with its views across the gravel pit, pond and wildflower meadows.