School half term holidays traditionally signal large gaps in the admittedly already pretty gappy posting schedule here at Fugitive Ink — and who are we to overturn tradition? In lieu of comment on the Coalition, the Queen’s Speech or even Stephen Games’ Pevsner: The Early Life, then, here is a photo from a recent excursion to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, if only to pass the time until normal posting resumes.
Kew, incidentally, is a marvellous place — that rare thing, an institution in receipt of substantial public funding which nevertheless appears to deserve every single penny spent on it. Not least, unlike most of our ‘public services’, it offers something for more or less everyone. The buildings, from Sir William Chambers’ elegant little follies (1760s) to Decimus Burton’s brilliant Palm House (1844-48, pictured above) to the strangely effective Princess of Wales Conservatory (1987), read like a lively survey of the past three centuries of English architecture. Although no great fan of most ‘environmental’ projects, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank scheme appeals to me enormously. Perhaps this is because it somehow comes across as an eighteenth century project — encyclopaedic, engaged with agrarian improvement, benignly imperial — as opposed to some sort of rite of nature-worship.
There’s exoticism to be enjoyed amongst the glasshouses, tranquility to be found in the parklike prospects, an education in the habits of herbs available in the neat little gardens behind Kew Palace, civilised strolls to be undertaken amongst the regular beds of roses. For those of faintly melancholy inclination, there’s a cycad that’s more or less the last of its line. In Chambers’ handsome Orangery, there’s not only respite from the sun, the possibility of very good coffee and walnut cake, but also heavy glasses with moulded flies perching on them — extremely enviable. There’s a nicely laid out shop selling everything from plants to books to gardening tools, although, alas, not those heavy glasses with the moulded flies perching on them. And then there’s an enormous pagoda, a Minka house, dozens of sweet-smelling lilacs, ideas for things to be done with herbaceous borders and wildflower lawns, beehives, a heron, art galleries, a playground, more plants than one could learn about in a lifetime and, well, quite a lot else besides.
Kew is, in other words, highly recommended, not least for those whose normal lives are on hold until school half term finishes. More serious posting will, one hopes, resume next week.