Temperate House (closed for restoration)
Kew's internationally important collection of temperate plants is being cared for and refreshed through propagation in nursery glasshouses, ready for planting into new landscapes in the restored glasshouse, which will reopen in 2018.
Follow our progress
Though the Temperate House is closed there will be project updates and diary highlights from the apprentices being trained in glasshouse horticulture and restoration.
Help us restore the Temperate House. Kew needs your help so we can carry out this vital and complex restoration.
History and architecture
Built in 1860, the Temperate House is the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world. It covers 4,880 square metres and extends 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).
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 has come from 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 1200 species, with many plants of interest for food, medicinal or practical use in addition to their intrinsic value and potential for research. The collection features palms, tree ferns and exotics such as Encephalartos woodii (now extinct in nature), citrus plants such as lemon and lime, the tea bush (Camellia sinensis) and a specimen of Cinchona which is used as a treatment for malaria.
The widest possible range of plants is being kept for the restored Temperate House. In taking the plants out ready for the restoration their status (e.g. growing needs, rarity, usefulness, interest) is also being assessed. The replanting will arrange plants largely geographically and within climate-related groups, taking advantage of variations in lighting and warmth within this complicated building.
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.