Day Six

August 13th

We walked past the Houses of Parliament on our way to the boat for Kew Gardens. The boat ride lasted about one and a half hours. We saw the Thames at extreme low tide. We almost didn't recognize the river on the way back, at high tide! Our boat was “The Henley,” and she was one hundred and seven years old, according to her owner. We got a funny, irreverent tour of the river from our captain. When we reached Kew Gardens, the boat got stuck at the pier. All the passengers had to move to the front to shift the weight so that the boat could reach the pier.

Since its establishment in 1759, botanists have roamed the world finding specimens to plant in Kew Gardens. Kew Gardens is enormous. It is mainly a huge arboretum, dotted with conservatories. The gardens were not looking their best, because the grass was dry and brown from the unusually hot, dry weather in England that summer. The gardeners had decided to save their valuable plants and trees at the expense of the grass. It was very nice, but it looked a bit like the African savannah, and we had been expecting something truly fabulous.

Kew has both outdoor gardens and a number of conservatories with a very Victorian appearance. In one conservatory there was a man in the lily pond, “weeding” the overpopulated Amazon waterlilies. The greenhouses had more than one level, and there were ornate Victorian spiral staircases between levels.

The museum at Kew had an interactive exhibit on the various ways that humans have utilized plants in the past, for our food, shelter, and clothing, as well and medicinal and decorative uses.