17 September 2020

Best things to do at Kew this autumn

From Gruffalo adventures to beautiful art, there's plenty to do with the whole family at Kew Gardens this autumn.

By Ellen McHale

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.

Go on a Gruffalo trail

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

Pick up a trail pack and set off for a day of adventure. Figure out clues along the way and follow footprints and feathers through our Arboretum. Keep an eye out for the Gruffalo himself outside the Marianne North Gallery...

Our Arboretum stretches across two-thirds of the Gardens, and is home to 14,000 trees of more than 2,000 species.

Spot our ancient hero trees, some of which date back to the 18th century and include the Japanese pagoda tree (Styphnolobium japonicum), the Lucombe oak (Quercus x hispanica 'Lucombeana'), and the black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia)

Gruffalo © 1999 & TM Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler. Licensed by Magic Light Pictures Ltd.

See amazing art 

See our stunning new exhibition Paradise Lost by acclaimed artist Jan Hendrix. 

The exhibition is inspired by the landscape of Kamay Botany Bay, Australia, which was once a pristine bay teeming with endemic flora and fauna. Almost 250 years later, it's virtually unrecognisable.

From a vast tapestry to a beautiful mirrored pavilion at the centre of the show, Jan examines the fragility of the natural world and humanity's impact on the environment. 

The Remains, study for a tapestry, 2019 by Jan Hendrix
The Remains, study for a tapestry, 2019 by Jan Hendrix © Jan Hendrix

Opening this October, Delight in the Detail is a stunning collection of beautiful botanical art from Dr Shirley Sherwood's collection. 

Collected over 30 years from many parts of the world, it highlights cultivated favourites and native plants from the UK, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Poland and the US.

There is a majestic bromeliad from Rio de Janiero's mountains as well as tiny flowers like the speedwell, magnified and dissected to show its delicate beauty. 

Take a look at the exhibition highlights.

Painting of Protea I : King Protea 2000 Protea cynaroides by Brigid Edwards © Shirley Sherwood Collection
Protea I : King Protea 2000 Protea cynaroides by Brigid Edwards © Shirley Sherwood Collection © Shirley Sherwood Collection

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 honeybees. 

Pollinators are fundamental to the lifecycle of our plants. Bees are particularly interesting as they do interesting 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 to other bees, 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, 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 Jack-o-lanterns.
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. They can be spotted standing stock still at the waters 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 20cm 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

Gruffalo adventures

Explore Kew's deep dark wood this October half-term.

Read & watch