London – Kew Gardens

Kew is too far afield to be called unnoticed London, but it is the most wonderful of all the London gardens and so easy to reach that to miss it would be a matter for perpetual regret.

Anyone can tell you the way to get there: either from Waterloo to Kew Bridge, when you will have to walk across the bridge to get to the main entrance of the gardens, or by the District Railway to Kew Gardens station, or by tram from Hammersmith.

There is so much to see there that over-much direction destroys the greatest pleasure of finding out what you like best, and everyone has his own opinion as to what time of the year the gardens are most beautiful. The poet loves ” Kew in lilac-time,” the lover of gorgeous colour goes down to see the regiments of tulips, massed as they are nowhere else outside Holland. Kew in rhododendron and azalea time ought not to be missed, but I think the loveliest sight of all is Kew in bluebell time, when it looks as if a bit of the sky had fallen earthwards on either side of the Queen’s Walk, and in the middle of the wilderness you come across the deserted little ivy-clad cottage, the sea of blue sweeping up to the very door to which no pathway now leads.

It was once the Queen’s Cottage, built by George III. for Queen Charlotte, in the days when they led the domestic existence that Fanny Burney described in her Diary ; but no one now uses it and it stands there with a mute air of resignation at its fallen fortunes, little dreaming how much its unexpected beauty adds to the pleasure of the discoverer of this lovely corner.

Kew, like the other parks, had its royal origin. Its founder was the Princess Augusta of SaxeGotha, the wife of Frederick Prince of Wales, who, eight years after her husband’s death, interested herself in the laying out of the exotic garden at Kew that was the nucleus of the vast collection of 24,000 different varieties of plants.

Kew has always been beloved by artists. Sir Peter Lely had a house at Kew Green and Johann Zoffany the painter, whose fame has so lately been augmented by the publication of his life and memoirs, lived in Zoffany House at Strand-on-the-Green, a delightful old-world riverside village close to Kew Bridge. He is buried in the early eighteenth-century church of St. Ann, where Gainsborough also lies.

And now come back to London and I will show you a Lilliputian park I am sure you have never noticed. It is so tiny; long ago it was the churchyard of St. Botolph without Aldersgate, dedicated to that kindly patron of all travellers, but now it is a charming retreat with an additional attraction that I leave you to discover, and because it is so close to the General Post Office it is always called The Postman’s Park.

There are other lovely unnoticed oases of green round about London town; Brockwell Park with its fine old walled garden, and Dulwich and Southwark. Their tales must wait for another time, for now it only remains for me to say with Pope:

Dear, damn’d, distracting town, farewell.