Kew Gardens – Q&A with a horticulturist!

Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens is an absolute must-see for London’s nature lovers. Lose yourself in the Garden’s vast arboretum, find peace in the tranquil Japanese Gardens ⛩️ or discover rare and endangered plants in the world’s largest remaining Victorian glasshouse. 🌲🌳

Although incredibly aesthetic, Kew Gardens is much more than just an insta-worthy attraction. They are also world-leading researchers in science and conservation efforts. Every time you visit, you are contributing to the protection of global plant and fungal biodiversity benefitting both people and planet! 💪

Scroll to the end to find out how you can get discounted tickets into Kew Gardens with TfL!

Q&A with a Kew horticulturist

To find out more about the amazing work Kew Gardens are doing, we caught up with horticulturalist Bryony Langley.

1. What does a day in the life of a Horticulturist look like?

We always begin by watering the plants in the glasshouses. I work in the Waterlily and Palm House, so there is a lot of water everywhere! We then make sure the place is spick and span, and safe for visitors to enter at 10am. For the rest of the day, I could be doing anything from fetching plants on the tractor, pruning trees in the cherry picker, wading in the pond, or pollinating the vanilla. We work with our students throughout the day, who we teach and train on the job. The work is really rewarding, but we’ve definitely earned our dinner by the time we get home!

2. What are you working on right now in Kew Gardens?

I designed the Waterlily House this year, which was really exciting! The house has just opened for the season, so I am busy making sure it looks its best and guiding the plants as they grow. I am using a lot of passion flowers to make tunnels of flowers (best seen from June-September) but lots of the climbers are yet to be convinced that using the supports and wires are a good option. Most of them are trying to break through the roof!

🌱 The Waterlily House is open from April-October.

Bryony working in the Waterlily House
Bryony working in the Waterlily House

3. What role does a Horticulturist play in the conservation work at Kew Gardens?

Kew is like a zoo for plants. Every single plant here has its own number and records on our database, so we know exactly where it’s from and if we need to make more of it. We can then store the seeds in the Millennium Seed Bank, grow more plants for our gardens in the Nurseries behind the scenes, or send plants around the world to help with conservation efforts in their native habitat. No matter how boring the plant looks, every plant here contributes to conservation!

It’s my job as a Horticulturist to make sure that the plants in my care stay healthy, are propagated when they need to be, and their records stay up to date. In the Palm House, we have a breeding programme for our cycad collection, just like you would with animals in a zoo. These plants are all protected by law and are often in need of conservation help in the wild because of over-collection for the garden trade.

🌱 Cycads can be found in both the Palm House and Temperate House.

4. What’s a surprising fact about Kew Gardens you wish more people knew about?

It’s not just a garden, it’s a living laboratory! Although you might see us gardeners when you visit, there are hundreds of scientists behind the scenes who work here too. Any of the plants here could provide a new perfume, fuel source, or even a cure for cancer. Not even our wild mushrooms are safe from research, as Kew has the largest Fungarium in the world! 🍄

5. What are some of the most interesting plants you work with and why?

Ant plants or Myrmecodia tuberosa have special cavities and tunnels that ants live in. The ants protect the plant from predators and can play a role in their pollination and seed dispersal as well. They may also provide a tasty meal. Myrmecodia tuberosa live in the treetops and have a large, bulbous trunk that ants live in. Ants are very organised and place their dead in only one of these chambers. The nutrients released as the ants decay are then taken in by the Myrmecodia through the walls of the chamber, which are coated in root endings. Further research has revealed the ants only place body parts with a high nutrient value, such as the head, in this chamber. The ants are actively feeding their house!  

🌱 The Myrmecodia can be found in the North end of the Palm House.

6. What tips do you have for people looking after their own plants?

Only buy plants you really want, don’t go by what’s in fashion or supposed to be easy to grow. If you really like the plant, you will look after it better and get more out of growing it.  Also, plants can be pricey. Always go for a smaller plant than you think you need, especially when buying houseplants. That way, you will save money and get the satisfaction of seeing your plant grow and blossom in your care. They always grow quicker than you think!

7. What’s your favourite season for plants and why? 

Spring, because everything is flowering its socks off! 🌷

8. What’s your favourite plant and why?

Cinchona or Fever Tree. It is a beautiful tree with white and pink flowers that have a strong, musky sweetness. Its bark contains Quinine, which is the basis of many anti-malarial medications and the main flavour in tonic water.

🌱 The Fever Tree can be found in the centre of the Temperate House.

9. What’s your favourite plant or flower emoji?

The cactus 🌵 (especially the WhatsApp one that has flowers on!)

The Temperate Greenhouse at Kew
The Temperate Greenhouse at Kew

Kew Gardens ticket offer

We’ve teamed up with Kew Gardens to offer 30% off adult and concession tickets into Kew Gardens until 31 October 2023.

The offer is valid when travel on that same day using the Transport for London network is proven using either the TfL Oyster and Contactless app or with a valid paper ticket. 

Find the terms and conditions for participating in the Kew Gardens 30% off ticket offer.

Upcoming exhibitions at Kew Gardens

Queer Nature (30 September – 29 October)

This October, Kew are transforming the iconic Temperate House into a celebration of the diversity of arts, plants and fungi. Discover unique artworks, a stunning temporary garden, a newly commissioned sound piece and a film-based installation as well as After Hours events including music, comedy and cabaret.

Mat Collishaw: Petrichor (20 October 2023 – 7 April 2024)

Contemporary artist Mat Collishaw debuts new work alongside existing pieces that draw on an array of evocative imagery from the natural world and showcase a variety of pioneering techniques. Also in Kew’s Shirley Sherwood Gallery is the Young Botanical Artist Competition which displays works from the next generation of botanical artists aged 16-25.

We’re going on a Bear Hunt (21-29 October 2023)

Get ready to wiggle into your wellies and head off on an adorable adventure of discovery through Kew Gardens.

Swishy swashy through grass, squelch squelch through mud and splash splosh through rives as you set off on an expedition in search of bears.

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