London sweated in the hazy heat of early July. After breathing the polluted air of the traffic-heavy Kew Bridge, it was refreshing to turn on to the Green, past pubs and smart houses to the ornate entrance of Elizabeth Gate. I showed my e-ticket and was given a fold-out map. Then I stepped into Kew Gardens.
I was hungry, but I wanted to find the perfect bench on which to eat my lunch, which I’d bought from the Marks & Spencer at St Pancras Station. After wandering along the Broad Walk, on to narrower paths and past some bright waterlilies with decaying foliage, I found a bench in the Agius Evolution Garden which faced some purple flowers. The obligatory #currentlyreading post for Instagram, in which I matched the cover of my book to the flowers, and then I ate my sandwich.
I was soon on the move again, observing the different kinds of people who were enjoying the gardens. Botany nerds were reading the labels on every plant. Couples entwined their limbs in secluded nooks. Carers were pushing wheelchairs leisurely. Children with fluorescent rucksacks ran along, excited to be on a school trip. Women in strappy vests chatted over their buggies. A man was lying in the sun with a book over his face. Every couple of minutes, a plane swooped low, close enough for the airway logo to be seen, while the traffic could be heard when one got close to the perimeter walls. Other sounds included the whispering of leaves, quiet conversations between friends and the clinking of cups outside the cafés.
The Rose Garden was a gentle gathering of pink, white, red and apricot blooms. Some were already withering, some were in full glory, while others were yet to open. I wandered around the rose beds, inhaling the scents. This had been the feature I most wanted to see, so I spent the remaining time following the paths around in a loop, occasionally resting on a bench, of which there were many.
The Great Pagoda was tall and ornately decorated, closed to visitors but still worth the walk to see. Along the Cedar Walk, I picked up three pine cones – large, medium and small – to bring home.
The Lucombe Oak was fenced off, to be admired from a distance. It is very old and has one of the thickest trunks I’ve ever seen. I checked the sundial in front of Kew Palace but the time wasn’t correct, possibly something to do with daylight saving or I may have read it wrong. I decided not to visit any of the indoor attractions, partly because of the queues outside to facilitate social distancing and partly because I assumed it would be just as hot, or even hotter, indoors.
After three hours’ walking in the gardens, my feet were ready to leave. As I stepped out of the Elizabeth Gate, I vowed that I’d be back next Spring.