The Secret World of Plants revealed at Kew Gardens this summer

Can you see beyond the green? 01 May – 19 September 2021

  • Kew Gardens’ summer programme asks, ‘what do plants really mean to you?’
  • Embrace the wonderfully weird world of plant biodiversity through newly commissioned interactive art installations using music, sound and colour  
  • Large-scale, immersive ‘plantscapes’ spread out across Kew Gardens celebrate British biodiversity and warn of its decline   
  • Tune in to musical symphonies created by the natural sounds of plants and trees
  • Naturally Brilliant Colour art exhibition in the galleries will show the brightest colours found in nature.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is on a missions to encourage people, after a year spent largely indoors, to reconnect with the incredible nature that surrounds them. This summer, the leading plant institute and UNESCO World Heritage site is delighted to invite visitors on a journey to uncover the Secret World of Plants.

Plant blindness and the ‘wall of green’…

Weird, wonderful, and with life-saving potential, plants will be brought to life by large-scale art installations and a programme of intriguing activities designed to capture the imagination of adults and children alike. Visitors will leave Kew Gardens with an entirely different perspective on the ‘wall of green’ – a visual effect caused by what is commonly known as ‘plant blindness’.  Plant blindness occurs partly because the human eye sees green objects much better than other coloured objects, and, as plants tend to be similar in colour and virtually still, human brains tend to group them together into one ‘wall of green’.

The beauty of British biodiversity…

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and the restrictions that have come as a result of national lockdowns, many people have found a renewed connection with, and appreciation for the natural world. Through the Secret World of Plants, RBG Kew will encourage visitors to explore this connection on a deeper level, focusing on the biodiversity found on our doorsteps that we may have previously taken for granted. The word ‘biodiversity’ often conjures dense tropical rainforests or imposing alpine peaks, but this summer Kew is asking visitors to consider the wealth of flora that surrounds our homes, schools, and workplaces – the plants of our childhoods, and, if we take care of them, of many childhoods to come…

Playful plantscapes…

At the heart of the festival will be six ‘plantscapes’ – large-scale, immersive biomes representing contrasting landscapes found across the UK, but rarely experienced in such vivid detail. Each landscape - coastal cliff and sand dune; moorland; marsh and meadow; hedgerow; woodland; and urban - is inspired by the UK’s priority habitats in the Biodiversity Action Plan: an internationally recognised programme addressing threatened species and habitats. Designed by Seattle based artist Vaughn Bell, each plantscape has been specially curated alongside our world-renowned team of horticultural experts using over 100 plant species in total. Visitors are invited to literally place themselves within these monumental landscapes via playful head-holes, and get a new, unique glimpse into these incredible, biodiverse and threatened UK landscapes.

Outside the steamy, tropical Palm House, visitors will find the chilly terrain of the UK’s moorlands, replete with natural rise-and-falls, purple moor grass and the delicate hanging bluebell (Campanula rotundifolia). They can take a trip to the structured slopes of a sand dune, and become lost in tall grasses as they try to spot sea holly (Eryngium maritimum), used by the Elizabethans as an aphrodisiac. For those who favour woodlands, a dense, immersive experience awaits, or visitors can learn how two habitats come together in a floral amphitheatre, as meadow turns to marsh with pale violet meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense) and deep purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). En route to the Temperate House – the largest surviving Victorian glasshouse and home to some of the world’s most vulnerable plants - visitors can enjoy the old British favourite - hedgerow, littered with familiar foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), or head to the Princess of Wales Conservatory where they will find playful child-size houses, designed to embrace the growing trend for green roofs and walls in our urban environment.

Artist, Vaughn Bell says: “I have loved collaborating with Kew plant experts to create these artworks. Each sculpture transports you to a specific, unique and precious habitat. I hope the art experience will connect people more deeply with plants, invite people to an engaging sensory world, and prompt curiosity to understand more about these particular plant ecosystems.”

Sandra Botterell, Director of Marketing and Commercial Enterprise at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew says:This summer we want to showcase Kew Gardens’ remarkable and diverse plant collection and give our visitors the opportunity to connect with nature in a unique and multi-sensory way. I hope that the combination of specially designed ‘plantscapes’ across the Gardens, along with the wonderful programme of art and music, will inspire a renewed and deeper connection with plants. Taking time out to notice our surroundings is so important, and the last year has shown that taking a moment to wander through nature can soothe the soul. The curated features such as the architectural seating will offer a different perspective on some of our best loved trees. We want people to see beyond the ‘wall of green’ by getting a better understanding of the plants that surround them and why they are so vital to all life on Earth.”

The Secret World of Plants – further programme details:

Listen to a botanical symphony…

Artist Alex Metcalfe, founder of the Tree Listening Project, brings to life the inner sounds of trees with a sensory approach to plant discovery. 'Tree listening' allows visitors to hear the inner workings of a tree, and the different noises made throughout the day as they shift and absorb water. Four majestic oaks will have sound domes suspended in their branches offering a variety of tree noises combined with specially commissioned classical compositions, giving visitors and unique insight into the movements of a tree throughout the day. 

A further artistic installation by Jason Singh will create a specially commissioned sound experience that uses naturally occurring ‘biodata’ from plants to create a musical score. Artist, musician, beatboxer and composer, Singh uses technology to record the electrical signals of plants, and then transforms them into beautiful songs of survival which can be heard in the Temperate House. Across festival weekends, Kew will invite musicians to respond to these songs as they are created live, so that the plants become not only the musicians but also the composers.

Enjoy Kew Gardens’ trees from a different perspective…

Designer Paul Cocksedge’s installation, Please Be Seated at Kew, takes the form of monumental and playful architectural seating, designed to encourage people to sit and reflect while taking in the relaxing scent of a specially planted lavender circle.

Naturally Brilliant Colour…

Visitors can also experience Kew's bold, contemporary new exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. The brightest colours ever to have been created will be on display for the very first time at Kew Gardens this summer. A new type of colour 'Pure Structural Colour' is a cutting edge piece of technology developed by scientific researchers at Lifescaped lab and takes inspiration from the natural world to synthetically produce any share of colour in its most vivid form. 

This new exhibition will take visitors on a journey from the very origins of colour on Earth, to ways in which artists have attempted to depict nature's brightest hues, up to the creation of Pure Structural Colour and its aesthetic potential in the art world and beyond. 

What we are doing to keep visitors safe 

The safety and wellbeing of our visitors is of the utmost importance to us and we are continually monitoring and responding to the Covid-19 pandemic as it evolves. We are adhering to government advice in our planning to ensure visitors and staff remain safe while enjoying the Secret World of Plants installations. It will be compulsory for visitors to wear a face mask inside the galleries and other indoor spaces unless they are exempt.


For more information, images and interviews please contact

Notes to Editors

Designed to appeal to all ages, the Secret World of Plants festival is open throughout the summer with after-hours events and paid for activities taking place onsite.

About the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

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 Wakehurst, Kew’s Wild Botanic Garden, attract over 2.5 million visits every year. Kew Gardens was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrates its 260th anniversary in 2019. Wakehurst is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. RBG 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 RBG Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.

‘Plant blindness’ occurs partly because the human eye sees green objects much better than other coloured objects, and as plants tend to be similar in colour and almost unmoving, human brains tend to group them together. RBG Kew’s partnership with CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) shows more plant species go extinct annually than animals, and that illegal plant trade has a huge economic value, with the damage done destroying whole ecosystems and costing millions to repair.

RBG Kew is passionate about increasing public understanding of plants and the important role they play in human life. With over 350 scientists and work spanning over 100 countries, Kew is leading the way in discovering and describing new plant species, researching their uses, assessing their risk of extinction, and conserving them for future generations. Plants are our life support – they provide us with food, materials, medicine, and more - and Kew has one of the largest and most important collections in the world.