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What happens to Kew Gardens in winter

During the cold season at Kew, the garden staff are busier than ever, but what horticultural work needs to be done? Seasonal Displays Horticulturist, Nick Woods, explains.
23 November 2018
Blog team: 
Katie Avis-Riordan and Nick Woods

Winter gardening

Winter is a time for the natural world to slumber. Bare trees are silhouetted against a wintery sky, colourful blooms fade and wildlife goes into hibernation.

But the pace for Kew’s gardeners doesn’t slow down one bit.

People presume at this time of year the work load eases up. But it’s quite the opposite.

There are many important jobs that need to be carried out during the cold season by Kew’s team of horticulturists, including:

  • The rotation of organic matter into the soil to raise nutrient levels.
  • Tender plants are drawn back into the nurseries to protect them from incoming frosts.
  • Leaves are frantically blown from pathways back under the trees where they can decay and return nutrients back into the soil for the next leafy generation.

One useful guide for all our winter gardeners is to always have a good pair of waterproofs and a few extra layers of clothing to hand.

Winter berries at Kew

Seasonal displays

During the autumn months, we change over our seasonal displays to put out our hardiest plants that can withstand winter frost and provide colourful flower throughout the spring.

Our bulbs are planted and hunker down ready to explode in the springtime in all shapes, colours and sizes.

In winter, we monitor the progress of our plants, checking for any signs of pests or disease to ensure they are healthy and surviving the changing season.

Traditional and formal displays require a lot of attention throughout the chilly season. So even though our limbs may slow in the cold weather, our attention to detail does not.

Nick Woods tending to Woodland Pot Display at Victoria Gate

Nick Woods tending to the Woodland Pot Display at Victoria Gate

Close-up of Narcissus bulbs

Narcissus bulbs

Kew Diploma student Ignacio and Kew Specialist Certificate student Joe working on the Parterre

Kew Diploma student Ignacio and Kew Specialist Certificate student Joe working on the Parterre

Time for hibernation

Due to the lowering temperatures, the majority of plant life at Kew has already started to prepare for winter.

Deciduous trees have shed their leaves to reveal their great natural architecture. 

Geophytes (plants that have an underground storage organ, such as tulips) have returned energy back into their bulbs.

Tubers and bulbs are ready for next year’s growing period.

In general, most outdoor plants slow down to reserve their energy through winter.

Misty tree at Kew

Botanical winter highlights at Kew

Even in the cold winter period, there are many exceptional and beautiful things to see at Kew Gardens. Here are some of the top botanical picks to look out for...

Witch hazel (Hamamelis) bears its weird and wonderful flowers:

witch hazel

Dogwood (Cornus) provides strong structural winter colour:

Dogwood provides striking winter colour at Kew

The exquisite scent of Sarcococca attracts passers-by:

Sarcococca confusa

The grasses stand beautifully coated in frost:

Grass Garden in frost

Pretty snowdrops (Galanthus) break their winter sleep with stunning white blooms:

Snowdrops at Kew

If you’re looking for a little warmth this winter, then head to our tropical glasshouse, the Palm House, where you'll find a rainforest climate and a diverse range of extraordinary plants:

Visit Kew this winter and make sure to look out for some of our botanical winter highlights as you explore. Buy your tickets online to save money.