Since windstorm Andrea denied me my chance of having a nice warm glasshouse walk in the Edinburgh Botanic gardens (see here for the gory details), I took advantage of a couple of days in London to bask in the warmth of the tropical houses at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.
I note in passing that to get into Kew costs almost £14. In Scotland, where we retain some vestige of the belief that education (even about plants) is a public good, entry to our Botanic gardens is free to all. This is a point to which I shall return later.
Kew in winter is bare. There’s a walk lined with some fascinating varieties of holly, which were at their best – covered with berries – but otherwise not a great deal to see in the frosty landscape. There’s no doubt that the glass houses are the place to be, especially since it was the first day of a temptingly titled exhibition called ‘Tropical Extravaganza’If you like orchids – which I do, but about which I know nothing – this was great.However – and for me it’s a big however – this exhibition had absolutely nothing to do with presenting orchids and other tropical plants in a fashion where I could learn about them. It was all to do with ‘themes’:
This year’s festival is inspired by the ‘forces of nature’ – fire, air, water and earth. See the lush tropical landscape of the glasshouse contrasted with vibrant floral displays – fiery reds, yellows and oranges, and shimmering silvers and blues.
In other words, it was about orchestrated colourful hanging baskets:Very pretty; very impressive……and maybe not averse to a bit of fakery. Is this lovely blue (water-themed) anthurium really natural, or has it overdosed on dye? I’m no doubt being curmudgeonly (again) in stating that I don’t think it’s the business of a botanic garden and respected research institution to put on a dumbed-down display of themed flower arrangements, complete with models of fishing villages (water) and seed sculptures (air). But what would I know? I’m just a gardener.
I would feel better about it if I didn’t think it had more to do with extracting that £14 entry fee from as many people as possible than with introducing them to the world of plants.