What’s your favourite way to celebrate a birthday? A cake? A present? An outing?
Last week I went to visit Kew Gardens with my husband and son. It was my husband’s birthday and we had arranged to spend the day at Kew, an outing being one of our favourite ways to celebrate. The two chaps were already in London and I travelled down to meet them . As the rail network was not working at its best(!), I joined them when Greater Anglia saw fit to deliver me to the capital.
After some lunch, we went first to visit the temporary excitement which is The Hive. This is a sculpture which was commissioned originally for an exhibition in Milan but is now available to visit in Kew Gardens until 2017, although it seems so popular that I can imagine it staying for longer.
Have you ever thought about the patterns of activity in a bee hive? No, me neither. Well, The Hive sculpture is a huge metal framework, which represents the structure of a bee hive. It’s so big that you can walk about inside it, looking out through the open mesh and up to the sky, through the circular hole at the top. Inside The Hive there are lights attached to many of the metal joints, and the lights are illuminated faintly or strongly based on the activity of real bees in a hive hidden away somewhere at Kew. There is also a background sound of bee activity and accompanying sympathetic music, based on the same humming and buzzing sounds.
The sights and sounds of The Hive are subtle and you need to concentrate in order to listen and watch for changes. In the lower part of the sculpture, I wondered if there was a hidden camera filming me as I followed the instructions to ‘pick a thin lolly stick, place it in your mouth, put the other end in a hole in the metal pole in front of you and listen to the pre- recorded sounds of bees, with your fingers in your ears, so that you hear the sounds through your ear bones, not your ear drums’. I was waiting for the call of “surprise, gotcha!” to come, as I hunched over the metal pole, with a thin wooden stick in my mouth and my fingers in my ears!
Are you good at identifying trees? Ash, oak, lime? We played endless games of ‘guess the tree’, as each tree at Kew has a metal identification label attached. It is impossible to guess them accurately as there are so many special types. Even the common ones are different versions e.g. large/ small leaves, softer/harder bark, taller/shorter tree. The whole park is fertile ground for this game and I really enjoyed the tree top walkway where you could get up close to the top branches, leaves, fruits and flowers. The walkway was substantial, wide and had plenty of room for the many people on it. But it did have an unnerving tendency to sway – enough said, we didn’t hang about.
Has your conservatory been a bit too hot for comfort in this recent weather? Then imagine a greenhouse built to house thousands of tropical plants. Hot and humid on purpose. The Palm House at Kew is full of examples of plants from the tropical rainforest, which thrive in the heat and humidity. It was a bit hot and sticky but we did see real bananas growing and some huge lily pads in a large pond, which were as big as an enormous paella dish and although flat across the middle, had raised edges which looked a bit like a pie crust. See photo!
One of the other highlights was the Shirley Sherwood gallery, which you could spend an afternoon in, although we rushed through in under an hour. It was jam packed with paintings of flowers, shrubs and trees, painted in the 19th century by lucky travellers who went all over the world. There were flowers from Borneo, shrubs from Sri Lanka and trees from India. A modern traveller would probably take digital photos and these were the Victorian equivalent. There was an overwhelming number of accurately depicted plants, all labelled with their botanical names and place of origin.
I was filled with awe at the thought of the intrepid Victorian women, leaving home to journey into unknown jungles and villages. They took their paper and paint boxes with them, cataloguing all the interesting and exotic flora they found. There was so much to learn and then show others on their return. Their painting skill was impressive and so was their get-up-and-go, especially in an age which consistently under-valued women. I wondered aloud if it might have been exciting to live in Victorian times and discover new areas of the world and their treasures. But my family were quick to remind me that while a privileged few went jaunting around the world, the vast majority of women were kept at home either sewing while they waited for a suitable husband or cleaning out coal fire grates for a living!
At home later, we had birthday cake to round off a memorable day at Kew Gardens and sang, Happy Birthday to Kyou, Happy Birthday to Kyou!!