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The orangeries and conservatories of Kew Gardens

The largest of UNESCO's world heritage sites, and home to the world’s most diverse collection of living plants and renowned scientific research centre, Kew Gardens Orangeries and conservatories.

The orangeries and conservatories of Kew gardens are home to some of the most diverse plant life around. The combination of both the historic Kew Estate and the Royal Estate in Richmond, came about after King George III inherited Kew from his mother, Princess Augusta, who had founded the botanic garden in 1759.

Amongst the breathtaking gardens, large ponds and woodlands are several of Kew’s famous glasshouses. Most notably the Nash Conservatory, The Orangery, and the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

Nash Conservatory

When entering the gardens through either the Elizabeth gate or Brentford gate you’ll first get to pay a visit to the elegant Nash Conservatory.

Originally built in 1825 on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, alongside its twin as designed by John Nash. The Nash Conservatory was dismantled and moved brick-by-brick to the gardens of Kew in 1836. Due to its original placement, on the northside of the palace, it was unsuitable for growing plants. Which lead to William IV ordering it to be moved.

The design of the original conservatory, however, would have appeared rather different than the building which stands today. Sir Jeffrey Wyatville, the designer of King Williams Temple (located just outside the Temperate house at Kew), wanted to adapt the building. The 12 columns that line the east and west façades are reputed to have come from the demolition of Carlton House, a mansion in Pall Mall belonging to King George IV. The north and south façades also faced adaptations, with Bath stone pilasters being added.

Similar to all the glazed buildings at Kew, the function of the Nash Conservatory has changed over the years, originally being used to house Araucaria and Eucalyptus. In 1854 it was utilised for imported Australian flora. By 1861 the conservatory changed again, housing South East Asian Araceae and being renamed Aroid House. It temporarily housed the palms of Palm House in the 1980s before receiving restoration and being the building we visit today. Standing as the oldest of the 19th Century glasshouses at Kew.

The incredibly large floor-to-ceiling windows provide a wealth of daylight and relaxing views of the gardens, creating the perfect environment for events such as presentations, product launches, corporate away days, drinks receptions and even yoga lessons.

The Orangery

The Orangery at Kew Gardens was the first of several buildings designed for the gardens and the largest in a classical style. Measuring a grand 28 x 10 metres (92 x 33ft). It was commissioned by one of the founders – Princess Augusta – and built-in 1761 by Sir William Chambers (who also went on to tutor her son, the future King George III).

Originally designed to be used to overwinter exotic fruits. However, due to its sheer scale and the large portions of brickwork, it was never truly fit for purpose. In 1841 the resident citrus trees were temporarily moved to the Orangery at Kensington Palace whilst the building was renovated by Sir William Hooker. The improvements included giant glazed doors at either end, allowing more natural light to fill the space. The building could then be successfully used for plants that were too large for the other glasshouses.

The Orangery has seen many reinventions over its lifetime, in the 1860s it became a museum for British timber. Showcasing thousands of samples of wood from areas colonised by the British.

In 1989 The Orangery became a tearoom. Before taking on its latest identity as, the Grade I listed, The Orangery Restaurant. Serving delicious lunches and afternoon teas for the millions of visitors Kew receives each year.

Princess of Wales Conservatory

Described as offering ‘a chance to travel the world within a single glasshouse’ is the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens. Considered to be the most complex in design, of all the glasshouses of Kew, the conservatory comes from the brilliant mind of Architect Gordon Wilson.

Diana, Princess of Wales first opened its doors in 1987, however, the building is named after the late Princess Augusta (also the Princess of Wales) who founded the gardens in 1759. The conservatory replaced 26 smaller buildings to house 10 computer-controlled micro-climatic zones. It has a total area of almost 4500 square meters (or just over an acre) and is designed to minimise the energy required to run it. The cooler climatic zones run around the outside, and the tropical zones are in the centre of the building.

The bulk of the glasshouse is composed of Dry and Wet Tropical plants, with the addition of orchids, water lilies, cacti, lithops, carnivorous plants and bromeliads. These are not the only living species that take residence at the conservatory. Five Chinese water dragons, named Lord Blechnum, Ruellia, CJ, Augusta and Mr Hui, also call this building home. They assist horticulturalists by eating cockroaches and other unwanted bugs within the building. Their neighbours, a variety of fish, including a redtail catfish as old as the conservatory itself. In 1989 the conservatory received the Europa Nostra award for conservation.

During the construction of the conservatory, Sir David Attenborough buried a time capsule, containing seeds of important food crops, endangered plant species and even key publications on conservation. The Capsule will be opened 100 years on from the time it was buried.

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