Wednesday, November 23, 2011

United Kingdom - England - Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Kew through the seasons.

Sent by Lærke, a postcrosser from England.

Since the 18th century, the Botanic Gardens of Kew have been closely associated with scientific and economic exchanges established throughout the world in the field of botany, and this is reflected in the richness of its collections. The landscape features and architectural features of the gardens reflect considerable artistic influences with regard to both the European continent and more distant regions. Kew Gardens have largely contributed to advances in many scientific disciplines, particularly botany and ecology. The landscape gardens and the edifices created by celebrated artists such as Charles Bridgeman, William Kent, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown and William Chambers reflect the beginning of movements that were to have international influence. The architectural ensemble at Kew includes a number of unrivalled buildings. The historic landscape within which these buildings are situated is a remarkable palimpsest of features from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew are situated along the cultural landscape of the Thames. Since the 17th century, the site has been a place of retreat for the royal family. In the 18th century, internationally renowned architects such as William Chambers and 'Capability' Brown not only created many edifices, but also remodelled the earlier Baroque gardens to make a pastoral landscape in the English style, establishing a fashion that then spread throughout the continent. The first botanic garden at Kew, originally for medicinal plants, was founded in 1759 by Princess Augusta and Lord Bute.
Kew Palace is the oldest building on the site (1631). Classical in inspiration, this house (in red brick laid in Flemish bond style) was built on the banks of the Thames. The orangery (now used as a restaurant), the largest Georgian edifice on the site, was built by William Chambers in 1761, and stopped being used for its original purpose and housed a museum until 1959. Queen Charlotte's Cottage was probably originally the residence of the head of the menagerie and was given to Queen Charlotte. In 1802, the wall between the two estates of Richmond and Kew was demolished. The palace built by Henry VII at Richmond in the 16th century, which could be reached by boat from the capital, proved an attractive venue for the Court during the summer months. The Kew estate became the property of the Capel family, who sold the lease to Frederick, Prince of Wales, in 1731.
The essential elements of the landscape garden designed by William Nesfield are one of the outstanding features of Kew. This garden is centred on an iron and glass structure, the Palm House (1844-48), designed by the architects Richard Turner and Decimus Burton. From the Palm House there are three vistas: the Pagoda vista, the Sion vista towards the Thames, and a minor vista.
The Herbarium, originally an 18th century hunting lodge, houses collections of plants and a library: the former museum of botanic economics (1847) has been converted into a school of horticulture (1990) and a new Jodrell Laboratory (1965) caters for the needs of researchers in plant anatomy, physiology, cytogenetics and biochemistry.
As the number of visitors increased, the scientific collections were enriched and glasshouses and spaces were altered to house living plant collections. The Second World War inflicted some material damage on Kew Gardens. The bicentenary of the creation of the gardens gave a new impetus. The main activities of Kew Gardens today are the conservation of the heritage of the site itself, and the conservation of ecosystems worldwide. Most of the buildings and structures are in a good state of conservation.
Joseph Banks and William Hooker, gardeners of great renown, whose revolutionary methodology modernized botany in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, were both directors of Kew Gardens. Kew's exceptional and diverse living collections exemplify the active European cultural tradition of collecting and cultivating exotic plants for aesthetic, scientific and economic purposes. This tradition has also led to recording and monitoring of the very rich local biodiversity for over 120 years, including an exceptional range of birds, insects, lichens and fungi; some of the latter have proved to be new to science. (Source)

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