Freelance writer and journalist based in west London.
Take a Tasty Trip into Beautiful Botany
If we are what we eat, then Kew Gardens summer festival gives us plenty of food for thought. 'IncrEdibles' is a celebration of edible plants, and the clever bods at Kew have come up with numerous ways to entertain and inform, using many of the species they grow. Granted, Kew is not London's cheapest activity, but get there early to make the most of the gardens and the festival, and you'll certainly get a full days' entertainment for all the family.
The wonderful thing about 'IncrEdibles' is that even if you're a regular visitor to Kew, you'll discover things you've never seen before. The Palm House is now home to a tropical larder. Brightly coloured signs draw your attention to sixty tropical, edible plants, highlighting how many of our everyday foods have their roots in the tropics. Interactive barrels that are dotted around the plants give bite-sized information and invite you to use your senses to learn more. The smelling barrels are particularly popular.
The pond in front of the Palm House now has a Pineapple Island on it. This celebrates Kew's large collection of Bromeliads, of which the pineapple is one. Walk across the bridge and you can make music with plants. As part of a special art installation, they've been fitted with sensors, so when you touch the leaves, you can hear the sensory effect you're having. The pond itself has been transformed into a tutti-frutti boating lake. You can hire a brightly coloured boat and join the 'fruit salad.' The boats are one of a few activities that are part of 'IncrEdibles' that you have to pay extra for, but if you do you'll be able to access the banana grotto beneath the pineapple; inside is a 3D colourful kaleidoscope and myriad fruit scents for you to identify.
On the other side of the Palm House, in the Rose Garden, there's a tea party to which everyone is invited. This is a delight; a long wooden table is covered with a variety of edible plants that are all 'served' in their own bespoke china. You can sit at the table and read about each one. It makes you wish all the food they describe was right in front of you.
Close to the tea party, inside the Waterlily House, Flavour Fiesta is another exhibit that's great fun. Thirty species of chillies are planted alongside other edibles, and there are easy spicy recipes on display for you to make a note of and try at home. Dotted amongst the chillies are little facts, detailing which are the hottest and various world record attempts involving this small but fiery fruit.
Nearby, on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer and again for a small fee, youngsters can really get their hands dirty by sowing a seed at the Vegetable Plots. The plots are the work of students at Kew's School of Horticulture. But at weekends they're open for people to visit and get inspiration for their own gardens. Students are also on hand to offer advice about growing techniques and answer any questions. More hands on sessions are available at the Munch Box, which is near the main children's play area.
For the first time at Kew, the Royal Kitchens are now open to explore. As part of 'IncrEdibles', on select weekends throughout the festival, Georgian cookery demonstrations will be held inside. As the cooks prepare food for King George III, who lived at Kew Palace, you're invited to drop in to see what he dined on.
The kitchens also have sheets explaining how to entertain royalty, various larders to explore and a gorgeous garden growing produce that the staff would have used to prepare the King's meals. Staff in period dress are also on hand on certain days to put the history into context. The opening of this area is a great addition to Kew Gardens in general and really interesting.
If after all this food related activity you're feeling hungry yourself, the new Picnic Garden is a lovely place to rest and refuel. Amongst the benches and umbrellas are large pots where you can learn about which plants are needed to make drinks like Pimm's and lemonade and berry cordial.
'IncrEdibles' is brilliant fun with something for all ages. It's been really well thought out and I defy you not to learn something new about the food you eat. It's worth checking before you visit when the activities are on so you're not disappointed. But Kew Gardens has done a fantastic job with this Summer Festival and I highly recommend a visit.