14 October 2021

Best things to do at Kew this autumn

From the Gruffalo’s Child trail to our Japan festival, there's plenty to do with the whole family at Kew Gardens this autumn.

By Ellen McHale and Kate Dickinson

Fallen yellow autumn leaves at Kew

The Gardens have come alive with the rich colours of autumn. 

Get outside this season, breathe in the fresh air and spot our autumnal highlights. 

Join the Gruffalo’s Child trail 

Head to Kew Gardens for a fun-filled family day out this October half-term.

Perfect for curious explorers, follow the journey of the Gruffalo’s Child on our magical new trail, with plenty of surprises to be found along the way. 

Search for clues on your hunt for the Big Bad Mouse and keep your eyes peeled for all your favourite characters. 

Plus, if you’re lucky, you just might meet the Gruffalo himself, with live appearances throughout the day at Kew Palace.  

The Gruffalo's Child at Kew
The Gruffalo's Child at Kew © Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

See amazing art 

Two stunning new exhibitions are opening in October at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art

Internationally renowned artist Zadok Ben-David brings his award-winning work to Kew in a highly anticipated solo exhibition combining new and existing pieces. 

Zadok Ben-David: Natural Reserve shines a light on the interconnected relationship between humanity and the natural world, drawing inspiration from Kew’s botanical art collections. 

See large-scale installations and sculptures, including the remarkable Blackfield — a huge floor installation made up of 17,000 etched and hand-painted metal flowers. 

Black, etched single flower from Blackfield
Blackfield single flower by Zadok Ben-David © Soupdemots
Etched, single flower, hand-painted fluorescent pink and blue
Blackfield single flower by Zadok Ben-David © Soupdemots

Be transported to the breathtaking beauty of Japan, China and Thailand with Elegant and Enchanting, displaying some of the Shirley Sherwood Collection’s most exquisite examples of contemporary botanical art. 

Explore the distinctive styles of master botanical artists such as Asuka Hishiki, Hideo Horikoshi, Mariko Ikeda, Mieko Ishikawa and Kimiyo Maruyama, highlighting the sensational flora of their countries.

Their works are accompanied by those of British artists Damien Hirst and David Hockney, which are inspired by the delicate, transient cherry blossom. 

Flowering Cherries: Prunus pendula 'Pendula-rosea' by Mieko Ishikawa
© Flowering Cherries: Prunus pendula 'Pendula-rosea' (2006) Mieko Ishikawa.

Visit Japan

Celebrate the iconic plants, art and culture of Japan at our new autumn festival, supported by Daikin UK. 

Discover multi-sensory artworks in the historic surroundings of the Temperate House, with a breathtaking installation suspended from the glasshouse roof.

You will also find a beautifully designed garden, a soaring soundscape and a joyful celebration of the chrysanthemum, Japan’s national flower. 

Follow our Momijigari Trail around the Gardens and experience the autumnal Japanese tradition of ‘maple leaf hunting’, seeking out the most striking seasonal foliage at Kew.

Along the trail, explore our tranquil Japanese Landscape and stop off at the Marianne North Gallery to see remarkable paintings from North’s time in Japan. 

Bask in autumn colour 

Head to our Arboretum for a beautiful display of autumn colour.  

From vibrant maple trees to majestic oaks, see the woodland come alive with fiery shades of scarlet, burnt orange and yellow.  

Leaves turn a different colour in the autumn due to hormonal changes in the tree, triggered by the longer nights as the summer comes to an end. 

Different trees turn different colours because of varying compounds in the leaves. The exact mixture of compounds varies between species, so the degree of yellow or red colour in the leaves is different.  

Reflections of trees in the Lake at Kew Gardens in autumn
Autumnal reflections in the Lake at Kew Gardens, Ellen McHale © RBG Kew
Autumn leaves at Kew
Autumn leaves at Kew, Ellen McHale

Discover the secret life of bees 

Step inside the world of bees in The Hive. 

At a towering 17 metres tall, The Hive is a striking installation and recreates life inside a beehive. It was designed by UK-based artist Wolfgang Buttress as a tribute to Britain's honey bees.  

Pollinators are fundamental to the lifecycle of our plants. Bees are particularly interesting as they do some special things to keep our plants and flowers blooming.  

Did you know that bees can dance? 

To let other bees know about a lucrative patch of pollen, they perform ‘round dances’ and ‘waggle dances’. 

The dances help the colony be more efficient, encouraging them to channel their energies towards the more nutritious areas of ground. 

Explore a new landscape 

Head to Wakehurst and explore our gardens in the heart of the Sussex countryside.  

Our sister site is the home of beautiful woodland, rolling hills and rare plants like the Wollemi pine. 

Go on an adventure with the Gruffalo’s Child, or see what wildlife you can spot in our peaceful Loder Valley Nature Reserve.  

Autumn highlights:

  • Smell the brown leaves of the candyfloss tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) for that sweet, fairground smell. 

  • Meet our incredible redwoods in Horsebridge Wood. These resilient giants have fire resistant bark and live for thousands of years. 

  • Spot the golden larch (Pseudolarix amabilis), also known as the 'Halloween tree’ because the flame-coloured branches turn the colour of pumpkins. 

Autumn colours of trees at Wakehurst
Autumn colours at Wakehurst, Jim Holden © RBG Kew

Spot birds and wildlife 

We have creatures great and small living in our gardens. From cuddly dormice in Wakehurst's Loder Valley to badgers and foxes at Kew Gardens, the gardens are thriving with furry friends.  

Birds love our gardens, from small feathery blue tits to tall wading birds.  

Listen out for the 'tap, tap, tap' of woodpeckers in the trees. Great spotted woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major) have distinctive white and black speckled feathers and red tail feathers.  

Woodpeckers use their powerful beaks to drum into trees. They create holes for nesting and to find tasty grubs, which they snatch out of bark with their long tongues.  

Look out for majestic grey herons around the Lake at Kew Gardens. They can be spotted standing stock still at the water’s edge, as they hunt for fish and amphibians.  

Head to Wakehurst to spot owls. It's home to three species of owl: the tawny owl (Strix aluco), the barn owl (Tyto alba) and the little owl (Athene noctua). Little owls grow to just 20 cm in height and are the smallest owls in the UK.  

Grey heron
Grey heron/Unsplash
Close up of tawny owl (Strix aluco)
Tawny owl (Strix aluco) © Kai Wenzel/Unsplash
The Gruffalo, Gruffalo’s Child, and the Big Bad Mouse

The Gruffalo's Child

Become a curious explorer this autumn half-term at Kew Gardens.

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