Kew Gardens has long been one of my favorite places in the world. They are the Royal Botanical Gardens started by George III and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As I mentioned in my post about walking around Oxford, I have always had a soft spot for English gardens. The oldest, like Kew or the Oxford Botanical Gardens, are magical multiple generational projects where the power of what humans can accomplish when we plan for the future is made manifest. They are also filled with hidden spots. I never know exactly what I am going to find as I wander through them, even if I’ve been to them a dozen times before.
We spent the day at Kew and it was by turns enchanting and depressing. Enchanting because their glory was palpable–especially in the large glass houses that we visited, filled as they were with plants from across the world. Depressing because the gardens were dust dry. England in the summer should be lush and green. Grass should be soft under foot, slightly damp, and cool to the touch. Instead, it was little more than straw.
In a way, the straw-like quality of the grass made a perfect, though ironic, pairing with the very essence of the garden. If a garden like Kew is a multi-generation project then the collapse of its lawns into beds of yellow thatch is a testament to human society’s–I should probably write Western capitalism’s–inability to plan across generations.
The sorry state of the lawns made the climate crisis real to me, just like the heat wave that hit London some days ago did. I’ve written about this reality before and the news this week that the Democrats are finally going to going to do something about the crisis, inadequate as their efforts are (stymied as they are by the Coal Baron masquerading as a Senator Joe Manchin), was a reason for modest hope.
Despite the lawns, Kew Gardens remained a spectacular place to visit. We saw in giant lily pads in two of the glasses houses–at least six feet wide and variegated in a fractal patterns radiating from their centers. We walked through the tree tops on the tree top walk (a perennial favorite for Asa). We marveled at the water gardens. And we were awed by the diversity of plants–giant ferns, carnivorous plants, cacti, orchids, tropical trees, and so many vining things. I am certain that I will continue to be inspired by the ingenuity of the gardens as long as I can still draw breath.