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Temperate House (closed until 2018)

The world’s largest remaining Victorian glasshouse is currently closed for vital restoration. Kew’s temperate plants are being cared for and refreshed through propagation in nursery glasshouses, ready for planting into new layouts and re-opening in 2018.

This historic building - the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world - is being restored, its amazing collection of temperate plants rejuvenated and the interior made into a wonderful place to enjoy and learn about plants. The interior will have exciting new landscapes for and interpretation of the permanent collection and the Octagons will offer changing displays of plant exhibitions.

Help us restore the Temperate House. Kew needs your help so we can carry out this vital and complex restoration.


Follow our progress

Though the Temperate House will be closed there will be project updates and diary highlights from the apprentices being trained in glasshouse horticulture and restoration.

Temperate House restoration project


History and architecture

Image of an old postcard depicting the temperate house

Built in 1860, the Temperate House is the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world, covering 4,880 square metres and extending to 19 metres high. With Victorian plant collectors bringing back ever more species from around the globe, Kew needed somewhere to house its growing collection of semi-hardy and temperate plants. Kew Director Sir William Hooker was a great advocate for a new glasshouse and in 1859 commissioned architect Decimus Burton (designer of the Palm House) to design a grand new Temperate House.

Decimus Burton created a complex and ornate design for a beautiful building with a high, light-filled main atrium, grand entrances to east and west, twinned octagons to north and south, and wing blocks extending out from each octagon. His designs included soaring arches on slim metal columns, wide sloping terraced roofs of glass, clerestory style windows, opening roof-lights and box vents to ensure a good flow of air, and a rain water collection and irrigation system. His drawings show all the details for metalwork, ornate carvings and sculptures, and the many roof mounted urns and other statuary.

The Temperate House was officially opened, unfinished, in 1863. Because costs had soared during construction, it was not completed for another four decades, meaning that the blocks, though looking almost identical, are built in iron work (South) and steel (North). 

Image of an old postcard depicting the temperate house

The glasshouse was quickly filled with plants from around the world, enabling the study and preservation of a wide range of temperate plants. Its galleried walkway provides a special view from the heights looking out at the tops of tall palms and trees, with great views down into ferns and lush planting.

Sometimes referred to as the ‘Winter Gardens’, following the Victorian fashion for glasshouses to promenade in, the Temperate House, adjacent to the tree lined Pagoda vista, became a popular place to visit, then walk and relax on the lawns – as it still is today.

Temperate Zone plants

The collection of Temperate House plants have come from all around the world - temperate regions that span Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the Pacific, with links to the work of the great collectors such as Banks,  Masson and Joseph Hooker. The plant collection has grown to over 1600 species, more than 50% of which can already be considered to be plants of interest for food, medicinal, or other practical use, in addition to their overall intrinsic value and potential for research. There will therefore be the widest possible range of plants kept for the restored Temperate House. The replanting will arrange plants largely geographically, and within climate related groups, taking advantage of variations in lighting and warmth within this complicated building.

Many of these plants are useful to us, such as the fruit-yielding citrus plants that includes lemon and lime, the tea bush (Camellia sinensis) from which the nation’s favourite brew is made and a specimen of Cinchona which is used as a treatment for malaria.

Some plants are endangered species being propagated for reintroduction to their native lands. This includes the St Helena ebony tree (Trochetiopsis ebenus):  by 1980 only two specimens were left in the wild, clinging to a steep rock face on the island. Cuttings from these came to Kew for propagation, and several thousand plants have since been reintroduced to the island.

The glasshouse is kept to a minimum 10°C, though many temperate plants can be hardier than this. In taking the plants out ready for the restoration, their status - e.g. growing needs, rarity, usefulness, interest – is also being assessed. Though most will be returned, some hardier specimens will find a home outside.

With thanks

Defra and Heritage Lottery fund logo

Kew would like to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund, Defra, Eddie and Sue Davies, The Garfield Weston Foundation, The Wolfson Foundation, J Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust and other supporters of this vital restoration project.

Thanks also to donors supporting the Horticultural and Construction Apprenticeships, including The Ingram Trust, CHK Charities Limited, The Sandra Charitable Trust, Vandervell Foundation, The Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation, The Finnis Scott Foundation, Ernest Cook Trust, Radcliffe Trust, Make My Day Better, Lake House Charitable Foundation.


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