The story of the greatest glasshouse in the world, its long journey back to magnificence, and the 10,000 plants, many of which are rare and threatened, that are soon to call it home.
Kew Gardens is preparing to draw to a close the biggest renovation project in its entire history. In a mere six months’ time, Kew will throw open the doors of its spectacular Temperate House – the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse – welcoming those from far and wide to experience the brand-new splendour of this iconic building. This National Lottery supported five-year long undertaking has been truly immense – the entire frame-work of the building has been painstakingly repaired, and its thousands of panes of glass replaced, along with its intricate ironwork and expansive paved flooring. Around 500 plants were taken out and housed in a temporary nursery, with an incredible 10,000 going back in, many of them propagated by Kew’s leading horticulturists. A lengthy and delicate process, it started in September and will take several months.
Whilst retaining its Victorian splendour, the renovated Temperate House will embody cutting edge engineering techniques, and is expected to be a vital, forward facing beacon of contemporary plant education. Backing onto Kew’s world-famous arboretum in the most tranquil corner of the Gardens, the Thames flowing quietly nearby, it is set be the true jewel in Kew’s crown – an architectural wonder, horticulturists’ haven, the most captivating of classrooms.
This magnificent structure will once again be home – as it had been since its birth in 1863 – to some of the world’s rarest and most threatened plants. And, in contrast to their sumptuous, romantic surroundings, these plants present a stark message; despite being the foundation of pretty much all life on earth, we are allowing them to fall prey to a variety of threats. When the last plant of a particular species dies out, what might it take with it? A new cure for Cancer? Or Ebola? The Temperate House will tell the stories of the plants that Kew has rescued, and the journeys they have taken to reach the sanctuary of their new home.
And what journeys they have been. The plants in the Temperate House will be made up of 1,500 species, from temperate regions around the world – the Mediterranean, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South and Central America, Asia, and Island floras. A visitor might find themselves in Mauritius, where they will find Dombeya mauritiana, almost extinct in the wild until Kew’s renowned ‘plant messiah’ Carlos Magdalena found one growing in the Mauritian highlands. After many trials and tribulations, he gathered and returned with cuttings, and Kew is now the only place in the world with this tree in cultivation. Turn a corner, and the visitor is in Nepal, encountering Taxus wallichiana, exploited for the Taxol market (a chemotherapy drug) and now subject to a clonal propagation program to help conserve it in the wild. As part of the effort, Kew and its partners are training locals in Bonsai techniques which allows for harvesting without killing the plant itself.
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.
Richard Barley, Director of Horticulture at RBG Kew, says:
“A few weeks ago, I watched as some of the world’s rarest plants were moved, with the utmost care, into the Temperate House. It was a seminal moment, kicking off the countdown to May’s re-opening of what has to be Kew’s most incredible building.
“The Temperate House will be for everyone. From young to old, for budding gardeners or aspiring artists, for those making a pilgrimage from great distances, and for our local community, we hope every visitor will see plants in a new light. And what a light it will be – when our first visitors swing open the doors – they will find these plants encased in a glistening cathedral, the new glass allowing the sun to stream in, the ironwork restored to its glossy best.”
Visitors to the Temperate House will ultimately find it a life affirming, all-consuming experience, and will leave feeling positive and hopeful about the progress that RBG Kew and its partners have made. With over 250 years of plant expertise behind it, world-wide collections, partnerships spanning 110 countries, and 326 acres that make up the most biodiverse place on the planet, no organisation is better placed to be the global voice for plants than Kew. And no space is better designed for that voice to ring out – come May 2018 – than the Temperate House.
Generous funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, philanthropic trusts and private donors, has made this project possible. Fundraising efforts continue in order to complete this ambitious restoration and ensure the building and its plants inspire future generations to protect and treasure the world’s biodiversity.
The Temperate House opens on 5 May 2018 – www.kew.org
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