November might not be the month most of you would choose to visit a Botanical Garden but as I was due to attend the RHS Plant Society Workshop at Wisley, it made sense to visit Kew Gardens the day before. Besides, I wanted to see the two exhibitions in the Shirley Sherwood gallery. Was I disappointed, no way, Kew was as fascinating as it always is. I have a fond memory of visiting as a child, with my penny firmly clasped in my hand ready to put into the appropriate slot. Always quite an exciting moment if I didn't drop it on the way, which often happened! But times have changed, no more slot machines but the gardens are still, if not more captivating than they were as a child. These days I don't often get to visit, the journey time is now a little different and I won't mention traffic! But when I can I do, visit that is, not sit in the traffic! Last time I visited was for a 'behind the scenes' tour of the melon frame yard to see the Juno iris collection with Tony Hall, which I organised for the BIS (British Iris Society). That was amazing but for different reasons than today's visit.
Where to start is the question, this time we headed for the Princess of Wales Conservatory, I have been rather drawn to succulents of late, it is the pattern of the foliage that attracts me. The solidness of the leaves compared with more ephemeral deciduous leaves and this is certainly a good place to see just that. I must admit that this is a bit of a new-found interest, and is with my art hat on rather than my gardening hat! The Grass garden was incredible and if anybody could say they hate grasses in a garden after seeing these I would be asking why? The contrast and variety of foliage, of movement, of outline shapes, of height and the difference between the density of the seed heads, from dainty to more statuesque solid heads. Thus, some formed strong statements whereas others gave an airy see-through delicateness - wonderful! Fingers were getting a tad nippy by now, so we headed to the Davies Alpine House, which I know some people hate but I enjoy the contrast between these two very modern glass structures and the Palm House which of course dates from Victorian era 1844. The contrast is stunning but the reason for them both being there is the same, a deep love of plants and the wish to display them to their best advantage. Just loved the display of London Underground advertising posters - again childhood memories and the seats using various woods. By the plant family beds was an extensive border which was devoted to salvias, and wow what a sight! When you consider it was November the colour was not just from the flowers but often from the bracts as well, another element to be taken into consideration. On through the gardens to the gallery, enjoying the tree shapes, colour was still good despite a rather cold and grey day.
The first exhibition was part of the Shirley Sherwood Gallery and titled 'Abundance, seed, pods and autumn fruit' and I was captivated. Especially by a Hydrangea that was painted on glass, giving a three-dimensional effect which I hadn't thought possible by painting. Also, the sheer variety of the work. One disappointed was the 'Life in Death' exhibition created by Rebecca Louise Law was closed for maintenance but viewing 'windows' had been left. So, it still could be viewed but not experienced in the way it was originally intended to be. Rebecca was inspired to create this art form by the Egyptian funeral garlands and it is crested by using 375,000 dried flowers. The link between something that was intended to mark a death and now being used to form a sensory experience I found very interesting and coupled with the seed paintings - well by now my mind was so full of ideas that it was almost on overload!
Final treat was to see the Tree top walkway, another childhood memory was evoked, having spent a good part of my childhood climbing trees I felt entirely at home. The walkway involves climbing 118 steps to the top and it has a very subtle movement as the wind blows. It is based on the Fibonacci sequence, is some 200m long and was part of the celebrations for the Year of the Tree in 2008. It really does allow a completely different experience of trees, a 'birds-eye' view and as you walk round there are 'nodes' or contemplation platforms with cast bronze plagues. A perfect end to a day, which had evoked so many thoughts in so many different areas of my mind but all explicitly linked in some way or another with plants.
Time for a cuppa and then to wind our way to our nights resting place in Woking. Ready to charge the batteries for my meeting with members from fellow Plant Societies the following day.