The Davies Alpine House was designed to create the cool, dry and windy conditions that alpine plants favour, without using energy-intensive air conditioning and wind pumps. It is a RIBA award-winning structure which combines traditional practice with the latest technology.
The glasshouse is 16m long and 10m high. This creates a stack effect that draws in cool air through openings on the sides and releases warm air through vents in the roof.
The glass is 12mm thick with a low iron content, this allows over 90 per cent of light through. Fan-like shades protect plants from the most intense heat of the summer sun.
The collection features a wide range of campanulas, dianthus, small ferns, helichrysum, small lavenders, primulas, saxifrage, thymes, tulips and verbascums along with lesser-known species.
Alpines are plants that grow above the altitude at which trees can survive.
At the poles, this equates to sea level but in the Alps it can be higher than 2,000m.
In the wild, alpines spend the winter dormant, dry and protected from extreme temperatures by a blanket of snow. Melting snow in spring provides moisture and exposes the plants to light. The short growing season means plants have to flower and set seed quickly.
Plants are nurtured in Kew's Alpine Nursery and only when they come into bloom do they go on display in the Alpine House. All the plants are grown in pots, enabling staff to provide the soil and watering regime that best suits each species.