BREATHTAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL

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Published on July 10, 2018 with No Comments

The Temperate House of Kew Gardens begs a visit after a major spruce up.

Words SURAYA MOHAMED
Images KEW GARDENS

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The world’s largest Victorian glasshouse once again is home – as it had been since its birth in 1863 – to some of the world’s rarest and most threatened plants. After five years, the doors of the spectacular Temperate House threw open once more, revealing 10,000 breathtaking plants that have been uprooted and replanted, making this magnificent structure the true jewel in Kew’s crown – an architectural wonder, horticulturists’ haven, the most captivating of classrooms.

Entering the glasshouse, visitors will embark on a round-the-world adventure. They might find themselves in Mauritius, where they will see Dombeya mauritiana, a tree that was thought to be extinct in the wild until Kew’s renowned ‘plant messiah’ Carlos Magdalena found one growing in the Mauritian highlands. After many trials and tribulations (including forming a human ladder to reach the lowest branch!), Carlos was able to gather and return with cuttings, and Kew is now the only place in the world with this tree in cultivation. Around the corner, transported to the mountains of Nepal, visitors will encounter the Taxus wallichiana, exploited for the Taxol market (a chemotherapy drug) and now subject to a clonal propagation programme to help conserve it in the wild.

Originally designed by world-famous architect Decimus Burton, heritage architects Donald Insall have updated and modernised key features to enable the building to function as a contemporary working space. Over 69,000 individual elements were removed from the building and cleaned, repaired or replaced. This included the replacement of a staggering 15,000 panes of glass, 69,000 sections of metal and enough scaffolding to cover the length of the M25. Whilst retaining its Victorian splendour, the renovated Temperate House embodies cutting edge engineering techniques, and is expected to be a vital, forward facing beacon of contemporary plant education.

A programme of interactive events and artistic entertainment, running throughout the summer and designed for the whole family, will really bring the stories of these plants to life. The opening of the first ever Kew Community Allotments has been created to engage with a wide range of groups including those with additional needs. Kew is also working with local children’s centres to invite young parents and children to take part in the first ever Kew Babies programme, where they learn through craft and music activities.

Given the unique nature of restoring a building of this calibre, Kew introduced an apprenticeship programme, part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, with the aim of providing young people from local areas of high deprivation with the skills, training and confidence to succeed in specialist horticultural careers. Ten young people consequently spent a year carefully removing plants from the building, and since then have been tending to them in their temporary homes and shadowing Kew’s horticultural display teams. In the run up to the re-opening, they have been heavily involved in the re-planting process. The scheme has also equipped an additional six apprentices with the skills needed to work in conservation and construction for heritage sites, learning carpentry, iron work and masonry. All are now all qualified to find employment in gardens and heritage sites across the UK.

Meanwhile, the Youth Explainer Programme is a first for Kew that sees teenagers aged between 14 and 17 volunteer as guides in the Temperate House. They have each undergone six months’ training on the plants that visitors will encounter – knowledge they will enthusiastically put into practice throughout the summer of 2018.

Inspired by the magnificent structure of the Temperate House, Cirque Bijou, that will celebrate 250 years of circus performing in the UK, have also created an unforgettable aerial show that will be a visual spectacle. Through contemporary choreography and a new musical score, the performance explores the themes of diversity in society, science and nature, focusing on how plants and humans interact and rely on each other for survival. The shows run weekends and on Bank Holidays, from now to 2 September, 2018. The 20 minute performances take place once an hour between 12pm and 4pm.

Finally, visitors can also fall in love with Gnomus. This larger-than-life puppet will greet families and visitors on a story-led walking tour, highlighting the most interesting tales around the vital importance of plants. Gnomus will be around to greet guests from 21 July to 2 September, 2018.

 

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