A writer sharing travels, experiences, a love of festivals & events. Life is a journey and I hope to inspire others. Visit my blog at https://www.travelwithirenke.blogspot.com
A tropical paradise
Flowers are one of nature's most beautiful living things, providing colour and fragrance like a breath of fresh air when they bloom. They have many properties that make them important to the ecosystem, from the nectar being used by bees in their honey-making to the stems being used for improving health. Of the many types of flowers and plants, the exotic orchid is a flower that has you in awe of its beauty and it's the highlight of a Kew Gardens annual festival, now in its 23rd year.
Last year saw the festival focussed on Indian varieties of orchids and this year sees a showcase of Thai orchids. Thailand is a very fitting choice as it is home to 1,100 species of orchids and the Princess of Wales Conservatory is the place to see them at this festival. It will be transformed into a tropical paradise with floral installations and floating handcrafted Thai umbrellas. You will be mesmerised as you walk through the arches and the tunnels decorated in some of the rarest orchids, admiring the beauty of hanging bouquets as you're led to a wonderful Bang Pa-In-inspired orchid palace. A traditional Thai market boat and rice paddy set in a typical country scene will sit alongside the floral extravaganza with an original cart on loan from the Thai embassy in London. Flower lovers will feel like they're in heaven, and on holidays.
As well as the stunning visuals, different soundtracks have been commissioned to play inside the glasshouse. Visitors will experience the everyday hustle and bustle of life with the sounds of the grinding of ingredients and the sizzling of spices in a pan as well as the tranquil sounds of an exotic spa and regal stirrings of a palace.
Weekends will be packed with the addition of live Thai music from the Thai Music Circle who will play their version of drums (taphons) and xylophones (ranats) amongst other unique instruments in the cacti zone at 1pm and 3pm, whilst Thai cuisine delicacies can be indulged in as you enter and exit the steamy glasshouse.
There's a lot to learn here too when you discover the importance of orchids in Thai medicine, cuisine and culture; how Kew's scientists are involved in describing and naming orchids; and how the gardens are helping to save endangered plant species. You can join a tour, talk, course or other orchid-related activities to grasp more knowledge on such things as growing orchids at home with Orchids for beginners and capturing the best photos of plants with Digital Photography for beginners.
Whilst at the gardens, be sure to enjoy its other features too. The huge and iconic Victorian Palm House glasshouse, the Japanese Gateway and garden areas, the Great Pagoda, The Hive, Queen Charlotte's Cottage, the Queen's Garden, Marianne North Gallery, the main lake and Sackler Crossing, are all worthy of your time. A map of the gardens can be printed here.
The Queen's Garden
Shops onsite sell books, prints, gifts and souvenirs, all inspired by the plants in the gardens. You can also grab something to eat and drink with cafes and restaurants offering everything from sandwiches to snacks, hot meals, coffee and cake. Alternatively, bring your own food and have a picnic. They're allowed throughout the gardens, except in the glasshouses and galleries.
During the evening you can also explore the exhibits with Orchids Festival: After Hours, absorbing the aroma of orchids whilst learning from a perfume expert on how these flowers attract their pollinators with both gorgeous and not so gorgeous scents. You can try botanical cocktails and purchase Thai cuisine, take part in insect tastings, enjoy a Thai head massage and spa treatment, see demonstrations on the Thai art of vegetable carving, learn about Thai traditional dress and catch live traditional dance performances. This intimate soiree is for those 18yrs and over only and takes place on 15, 16, 22 and 23 February as well as 1-2 March with 3 sessions on each night (6pm, 7pm and 8pm).
The festival is free with Day admission (10am-4.15pm). Entry price for adults ranges from GBP13.60-16.00 with children (4-16yrs) from GBP3.40-4.00 and concession at GBP14.00. Prices depend on the day you visit. Tickets for the After Hours event can be purchased separately. The cost for these are GBP16.00 per person. To book tickets online, click here.
Kew Gardens is only 30minutes from Central London and is easily accessible by various modes of transport. Bus 65 stops at the Victoria and Lion Gates of the gardens whilst the train gets you within easy reach when exiting at Kew Bridge Station. If taking the tube, exit at Kew Gardens station.
So forget the winter blues in London, take the short trip to Kew Gardens and get immersed in the vibrant colours of these beautiful orchids and the creativity of the designs.