Temperate House reopened, this time by Sir David not QEII

It's taken five years, £41 million, the repair of 69,000 individual parts (including the replacement of 15,000 panes of glass), 180 km of scaffolding and more than 5,000 litres of paint, but Kew Gardens' Temperate House is back in action.

Designed by Decimus Burton, the gentleman who gave us the Palm House at Kew Gardens, this giant glasshouse was first opened in 1863, although with additions it was not complete until 40 years later. Queen Elizabeth II reopened it in 1981 after its last major restoration. This time Sir David Attenborough, with Kew's Chairman, Marcus Agius, and Director, Richard Deverell, did the honours last week (on 3 May 2018).

At 4,880 square metres in area, the Temperate House is twice as big as the Palm House, and the largest still-standing Victorian glasshouse in the world. For more than 150 years it has been home to plants from Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific Island. Plants that otherwise would shiver (and die) outside in the London climate.

In the freshly renovated glasshouse you can see 10,000 plants, representing 1,500 species, displayed to highlight conservation efforts to protect our temperate forests. The famous South African cycad Encephalartos woodii remains, a species extinct in its natural habitat. Today this cycad is found only in botanic gardens and private collections around the world, and Kew's specimen is one of the finest.

Closer to (my) home is a new addition, Johnson's Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea johnsonii) from our show-winning garden designed by Jim Fogarty, 'Essence of Australia', at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in 2014. We estimated at the time this specimen was possibly older than Hampton Court Palace itself, built in the 16th century. (This is Richard Barley, ex of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and now Director Horticulture, Learning and Operations at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, with the specimen.)

There are more plants from that show garden, plus plenty of other species from Australia. They form part of a collection from just one of seven regions gathered together in this new display.

The interpretation is also very classy, with bit-sized science, maps and colour photos. The design is crisp and elegant as well. We can thank Sharon Willoughby, also ex of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria for this! Here are the signs, with Richard and that cycad I mentioned above...

I was delighted to be at this reopening, a chance opportunity on my way to a botanic gardens meeting in Lisbon. The restoration project began when I was working at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, as Director Conservation, Living Collections and Estates (with responsibility for the heritage buildings as well as horticulture at Kew Gardens and Wakehurst Place and the wonderful Millennium Seed Bank Partnership).

During my two-year sojourn, the planning was completed and most of the money raised - through the Heritage Lottery Fund; Kew's Government Department home, Defra; and some sizable private donations. Between my leaving in 2013 and today, all the cleaning, repair and painting happened. A big job and a beautiful result.

For the record, here it is in July 2014, soon after the glasshouse was cleared of plants. It's a year after I left working there and at the time of the Hampton Court Flower Show...


Stuart Read said…
nice one Tim - no sign of Richard's Aussie plants he stood beside in a recent 'Gardens Illustrated' sneak-peak. No matter - good to know it's done, it's open and re-stocked. Hope the 'de-gassing' of all that paint and new steel isn't too much for the plants.
Congrats - great to see Australians taking such initiatives: bravo all round.
Twinkle said…
Nice post. It is really interesting. Thanks for sharing the post!
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