It’s been nice to think about being in a winter garden in the middle of winter – bathed in sunshine today but a cool edge to the wind and more rain forecast later this week. So, on we go …
Last year was my first chance to visit the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens, opened by Princess Diana in 1987, although the glasshouse is actually named for another Princess of Wales, Augusta, mother of George III, who founded the Gardens in 1759.
With a floor space of 4,500 square metres, the glasshouse contains a whopping 10 different climatic zones and a huge variety of plants, from cacti and carnivorous plants to orchids and bromeliads. Each of the zone climates is maintained by a computer which adjusts heat, ventilation and humidity automatically. Hot-water pipes are used for heating.
Architect Gordon Wilson designed the conservatory for maximum energy efficiency so much of it sits below ground to conserve heat and has a low volume compared to floor space so temperatures can be altered rapidly, while its specially designed stepped glass roof effectively collects solar energy. Rain water is collected and stored in tanks beneath the building before being used for irrigation.
Sir David Attenborough buried a time capsule in the foundation containing seeds of important food crops and several endangered species. It will be opened in 2085, when many of the plants it contains may be rare or extinct.
The Conservatory is home to the world’s largest water lily (Victoria amazonica) and the smallest and rarest waterlily (Nymphaea thermarum). In 2014 someone decided to help themselves to one of the few examples Kew had of this tiny plant, extinct in its only known location in the wild, a thermal hot spring in Rwanda. Read a long, but very interesting piece, about this case and plant theft in general.
My only problem with the glasshouse was getting out! My friends were patiently waiting for me to have my fill of taking photos and I decided it was time to get back to them. My first attempt at following the Exit signs took me round in a big circle so I asked an attendant (who, bless her, kept a straight face). I set off again and at a certain point made a left instead of a right and voila, there were some faces I recognised and a door to the outside world. Whew!