On Wednesday the 27th of November, Helen and I were invited to Kew Gardens for their ‘Christmas at Kew’ event. The UNESCO World Heritage site was opened in the evening for a special Christmas-themed trail, featuring art instalments, light shows, vintage fairground rides, a Christmas Village selling local craft goods, and Santa’s Grotto. The idea of the evening was for children to follow the trail, collecting the names of important plant species and meeting members of the Royal Society of Plant Whisperers along the way.
Arriving at 5:30pm, we were shown through the Christmas village by friendly staff, and directed to the café that was offering mince pies and mulled wine (Helen doesn’t eat sugar so I got her mince pie, score!) Once the trail opened, we were free to walk it at our own leisure. Somehow Helen and I managed to begin at the end, so we were walking against the current of people, but I’m sure we got the same experience… Maybe.
Starting at the huge Palm House, we were treated to a fabulous light show that illuminated the greenhouse in different colours, allowing us brief glimpses at the enormous plants within. Opposite the Palm House was a flat lake, with a spotlighted statue standing alone in the middle. The whole scene was somewhat serene, standing in the dark silence, we felt very peaceful sipping our wine and embracing the fresh air.
Moving on, we came to a smaller greenhouse that was home to the first art instalment (or last if you do the trail in the right order). A large, artificial lily was suspended from the ceiling, reflected in a smooth pond below. When I first entered the greenhouse I didn’t realise there was a pond inside, I thought it was a huge mirror, the reflection was that perfect. It was only when a drop of moisture fell from the lily that the mirror broke and the ripples distorted the image, showing us that it was water after all.
The trail between each feature had a very surreal feel to it, the only light came from old-fashioned street lights that cast patterned shadows across the ground, and the occasional tree that was illuminated by a coloured spotlight. For the first half of the trail, Helen and I were essentially alone, as everyone else had started from the other side. This added to the surrealism because it was just so quiet! Dotted along the route were gramophones that played recordings of the Royal Society of Plant Whisperers, it felt like a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in Alice in Wonderland.
Rounding a corner, we came across the Fire Garden, a large enclosure of 300 flaming torches set out in Fibonacci’s number sequence, created by Mandy Dike and Ben Rigby. The path took us around the edge, where speakers played eerie music, creating a mysterious atmosphere. The instalment represented patterns and geometry in nature, whilst also being beautiful to watch (and warm to stand by).
Again along the streetlight-lit path, we came to the halfway point. Here there were a set of buttons that when pressed produced a loud drum beat, and changed the colour of lights pointed at enormous beech trees, quite the visual show! There was also a food and drink hut, for those who needed a hot chocolate to make it the other half. A little further down the path was a bamboo garden, which featured Indonesian music made from bamboo instruments.
The last stop along the way (or first if you’re doing it right) was a beautiful lake, with a long wooden bridge for crossing. Halfway across the bridge we encountered our first member of the Royal Society of Plant Whisperers, who explained to us a bit about the water plants at Kew Gardens, and how they’re working to conserve them. The talk was essentially for the children, so there was a lot of magic involved, but the essence of the speech was interesting. Passing King William’s Temple, we arrived back at the Christmas Village, just in time to have a go on the vintage carousel and helter-skelter! (So worth it).
That concluded our evening at Kew Gardens, the whole walk took about an hour, with extra time for rides and food. Unfortunately we didn’t get to visit Santa as he was on his tea break when we had a look, but I’m sure it would have been spectacular.
A great event for children as it was both entertaining and educational, and a great way to get into the Christmas spirit! Huge thanks to Kew for inviting us along and being so accommodating.
Kew Gardens and Palace Experience in London