Temperate House interior
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Press release: The greatest glasshouse in the world awaits

Iconic Temperate House re-opens after largest restoration in Kew’s history Opening day, 5 May 2018
Release date: 
5 April 2018

World's greatest glasshouse

The story of the greatest glasshouse in the world, its long journey back to magnificence, and the 10,000 plants, many of which are rare and threatened, that are soon to call it home.

  • 10,000 plants (1,500 species), from the world’s temperate zones
  • 5-year project involving 400 staff and contractors, taking 1,731 days to complete
  • 69,000 individual elements removed from building and cleaned, repaired or replaced
  • Scaffolding required was equivalent to length of M25
  • Restoration made possible by support of nearly £15m from the National Lottery, as well as contributions from Defra and other corporate and private donors
  • Aerial performers to fly through building and giant puppets will tell stories of plants
  • Focus on link between wellbeing & connecting people to nature, via launch of Kew Babies, Kew Allotments and many more initiatives

Kew Gardens is in the final month of the largest restoration project in its entire history. On 5 May, the doors of its spectacular Temperate House will be thrown open, revealing 10,000 breathtaking plants, making this magnificent structure the true jewel in Kew’s crown – an architectural wonder, horticulturists’ haven, the most captivating of classrooms. 

Horticultural apprentice Qamar Nur waters plants

Horticultural apprentice Qamar Nur waters plants

The breathtaking plants

The world’s largest Victorian glasshouse will once again be home – as it had been since its birth in 1863 – to some of the world’s rarest and most threatened plants. In contrast to their sumptuous, romantic surroundings, these plants present a stark message; despite being the foundation of pretty much all life on earth, we are allowing them to fall prey to a variety of threats. When the last plant of a particular species dies out, what might it take with it? A new cure for Cancer? Or Ebola? The Temperate House will tell the stories of the plants that Kew has rescued, and the journeys they have taken to reach the sanctuary of their new home.

Entering the glasshouse, visitors will embark on a round-the-world adventure. They might find themselves in Mauritius, where they will see Dombeya mauritiana, a tree that was thought to be extinct in the wild until Kew's renowned 'plant messiah' Carlos Magdalena found one growing in the Mauritian highlands. After many trials and tribulations (including forming a human ladder to reach the lowest branch!), Carlos was able to gather and return with cuttings, and Kew is now the only place in the world with this tree in cultivation. Around the corner, transported to the mountains of Nepal, visitors will encounter the Taxus wallichiana, exploited for the Taxol market (a chemotherapy drug) and now subject to a clonal propagation program to help conserve it in the wild.

Richard Barley, Director of Horticulture at RBG Kew, says:

"Over the past few months, I have watched as some of the world's rarest plants finally reach their home. And what a home it will be - a glistening cathedral, the new glass allowing the sun to stream in, the ironwork restored to its glossy best.

"The Temperate House will be for everyone. From young to old, for budding gardeners or aspiring artists, for those making a pilgrimage from great distances, and for our local community, we hope every visitor will see plants in a new light

The painstaking restoration

Originally designed by world-famous architect Decimus Burton, heritage architects Donald Insall have updated and modernised key features to enable the building to function as a contemporary working space. Over 69,000 individual elements were removed from the building and cleaned, repaired or replaced. This included the replacement of a staggering 15,000 panes of glass.

Aimée Felton, lead architect on the project, said:

“The restoration of the Temperate House has been a complex and immensely rewarding project, recalibrating contemporary understanding of Victorian architecture and the development of past innovations. New glazing, mechanical ventilation systems, path and bedding arrangements all took their founding principles from Decimus Burton’s own drawings, held within Kew’s archives.

The time it will take for the newly propagated plants to reach maturity will offer visitors a full and unobstructed view of the incredible metal skeleton in all its glory: a cutting-edge sanctuary for plants.”

The restoration was made possible thanks to incredible support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Their Chief Executive, Ros Kerslake, says:

We know from speaking to National Lottery players the value they put on protecting and understanding the natural world – a value that also makes the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew one of our best-loved visitor attractions.  “Our grant of nearly £15m has helped give The Temperate House some much-needed repairs as well as a new sense of purpose.  This extraordinary glass structure has always epitomised all that is wonderful about these gardens – it is a magical place with a massive heart, which makes a huge contribution to biodiversity and natural heritage.”  

A temple of learning

It has been a priority for Kew to ensure that the re-opening of the Temperate House elicits rich engagement with the local community. Based on significant evidence showing links between health, wellbeing and connecting to nature, the opening of the first ever Kew Community Allotments have been created to engage with a wide range of groups including those with additional needs. Kew is also working with local children’s centres to invite young parents and children to take part in the first ever Kew Babies programme, where they learn through craft and music activities.

Given the unique nature of restoring a building of this calibre, Kew introduced an apprenticeship programme, part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, with the aim of providing young people from local areas of high deprivation with the skills, training and confidence to succeed in specialist horticultural careers.

Ten young people consequently spent a year carefully removing plants from the building, and since then have been tending to them in their temporary homes and shadowing Kew’s horticultural display teams. In the run up to the re-opening, they have been heavily involved in the re-planting process. The scheme has also equipped an additional six apprentices with the skills needed to work in conservation and construction for heritage sites, learning carpentry, iron work and masonry. All are now all qualified to find employment in gardens and heritage sites across the UK.

Youth Explainer Programme
Kew’s first programme of its kind will see teenagers aged between 14 and 17 volunteer as guides in the Temperate House. They have each undergone six months’ training on the plants that visitors will encounter– knowledge they will enthusiastically put into practice throughout the summer of 2018.

Schools are also a vital part of Kew’s community and this May we launch the Endeavour Programme, a new online learning platform that will reach schools throughout the UK and engage children in challenge-based activities.

The 'Kew Babies' programme

The 'Kew Babies' programme

Visitor activities

Cirque Bijou
Celebrating 250 years of circus performing in the UK and inspired by the magnificent structure of the Temperate House, Cirque Bijou have created an unforgettable aerial show that will be a visual spectacle. Through contemporary choreography and a new musical score, the performance explores the themes of diversity in society, science and nature, focussing on how plants and humans interact and rely on each other for survival.

Weekends and Bank Holidays, from Saturday 26 May to Sunday 2 September. 20 minute performances once an hour between 12pm and 4pm.

Gnomus (Giant puppet)
Families can explore the Temperate House with conservation giant ‘Gnomus’, a larger-than-life puppet who will take them on a story-led walking tour, highlighting the most interesting tales around the vital importance of plants.

Saturday 26 May to Sunday 3 June, and Saturday 21 July to Sunday 2 September. 15 minute performances between 11am and 5pm.


For images and more information please contact Jo Maxwell at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Press Office on 020 8332 3618 or email j.maxwell@kew.org, or pr@kew.org.


Notes to Editors

The Temperate House opens on 5 May 2018, with a press launch on 3 May – please register any interest in attending with the Kew press team.

Private hire
For an event like no other, this incredibly unique space will be available for private hire, from corporate events to weddings. For further information, Please call 020 8332 5641 or email venues@kew.org.

Funding the restoration of the Temperate House:
n 2011 the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded Kew a development fund of £890,000 towards the Temperate House restoration project, followed by a further £14.7m for the restoration of the historic Temperate House in March 2013. On top of this, Defra (the Government department that provides approximately half of Kew’s funding) has contributed £10.4m and Kew has raised an additional £7.7m for the project from private donors. The £41m restoration project will be completed in May 2018.

The Heritage Lottery Fund
Thanks to National Lottery players, the Heritage Lottery Fund invests money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk.  Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #HLFsupported and #NationalLottery.

Donald Insall architects
Donald Insall Associates is a leading conservation architecture practice based in London and across seven regional UK offices. Founded in 1958, the employee-owned practice celebrates its sixtieth anniversary this year. Over the past six decades, Donald Insall Associates has taken a pioneering role in the conservation of historic buildings, and in responding to changing ways in which society has perceived and valued its heritage. The practice’s projects have now received over 200 Commendations and Awards for excellence in conservation and craftsmanship. Donald Insall Associates has also worked on other projects at Kew Gardens including the Palm House, Campanile and Marianne North Gallery. 

ISG (main contractor)
ISG is the world’s most dynamic construction services company, delivering robust and future-proofed places that help people and businesses thrive. Our 2,800 worldwide specialists deliver unbeatable customer experiences fuelled by a fast-paced, ideas-driven culture. For further information about ISG please visit our website www.isgplc.com, Twitter, or Facebook page.

Ramboll (Engineers)
Ramboll is a leading engineering, design, environmental and consultancy company founded in Denmark in 1945. Employing 13,000 experts from across 300 offices in 35 countries, Ramboll combines local experience with a global knowledgebase, constantly striving to achieve inspiring and exacting solutions that make a genuine difference to our customers, end-users and society as a whole. 

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew’s 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Kew's country estate, Wakehurst, attract over 2.1 million visits every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew receives approximately one third of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needed to support Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.