The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew

As part of the Summer holidays, we decided to spend a few days with my folks in London. This afforded the opportunity to do some of the touristy things in our capital. Although I grew up within a short train ride of central London, my daughter has lived her whole life in a village in the Yorkshire wolds and the “big smoke” is something of a novelty. We asked her where out of everywhere in London would she like to visit and like any other 7 year old girl she said “Kew gardens” ???

My daughter is a very big fan of David Attenborough so has wanted to visit Kew for a while. My wife and I have never been so it was a joint first experience.

Kew was stunning! we spent all day there and would happy have returned the next day. By far my favourite was the waterlily house, though I may have loved the palm house more if it hadn’t tried to cook me.


But “WHAT?” I hear you cry “Does this have to do with bees?”. Well, Kew gardens has recently had a new piece of installation art…eh…installed.

The hive is a large metal structure that you enter through a small wild flower sown area. We are reminded that the wild flowers are part of the art work and should not be walked on. The structure itself is lined with lights and speakers which are linked to one of hives located in the kitchen garden at Kew (below). The lights illuminate based on activity in the hive and the speakers provide the sound. Underneath this is an area where there are columns presenting wooden spatulas! You are invited to place these between your teeth and hold them against metal plates in this column whilst plugging your ears….no really. Sound is transferred more efficiently through your jaw by vibration than through your ears. You then experience and clearly “hear” the sounds of a hive swarming and new emerging queens pre-recorded and played on a loop.

The wild flowers around the “Hive” were strangely quiet but it seemed every other flower in Kew was fit to bursting with bees, especially honey bees. I have never seen so many honey bees foraging in one place.  With all that activity I expected Kew to have much more than two hives, but with urban beekeeping becoming more and more popular these may have been visitors like us. I especially liked the bumble bee nests alongside the national and WBC hives.

Whilst there I made certain I took down some names of the most popular honey bee plants. Every single plant and tree in Kew is labelled with its common and Latin names, and some have been there since the early 1700s. Here are some of the most popular with the honey bees:

Echinacea seems like an obvious one but I have had rubenstein echinacea in my garden for years and although it is very popular with butterflies the bees are not so much with the being interested. The two above are Echinacea purpurea Magnus (pink) and White swan (white). The most popular by far was the pink.

Nectar flows in my area are meager at best and I am always looking for a good autumn source for the bees. Verbena boraniensis (Argentinian Vervain OR Purple top) seems perfect. It is drought tolerant, can grow in sandy soil, is largely disease resistant, and everyone loves a perennial.


Echinops bannaticus (Taplow blue OR Globe thistle) photo:

The globe thistle certainly got some attention but by far and away the star of the show was Allium angulosum (below).

The allium angulsom (mouse garlic) was COVERED in the honey bees. I have never seen one plant so completely … well…eh…pollinated. This was definitely the winner for me and I have already made my seed order for all of the above. Had I a little more presence of mind I could have been one of the many furtive looking characters lurking in Kew with brown envelopes, notepads, and small secateurs for the collection of seeds and cuttings. Nevermind, I’ll just have to go back another day.

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6 Responses to The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew

  1. Emily Scott says:

    The wild flower areas round The Hive were strangely quiet when I visited too. There is also another honey bee hive at Kew which is hidden from public view. This is the hive which feeds the sounds in the Hive installation, as the two you saw are located too near the road and had some vibratory interference from passing vehicles. That’s what a member of staff told me anyway.

  2. Julie says:

    What a fantastic trip, and I love your daughter for picking it as a destination! Thanks for sharing your photos & notes!

    BTW, I have two kinds of echinacea in my garden — both purple though I don’t remember the varieties. My bees adore the one and despise the other.

    • deweysanchez says:

      I love that she likes this sort of thing as well. She is a massive David Attenborough fan (not sure if you know him in the US). We love watching his documentaries together.

  3. Erik says:

    Lovely pictures, thanks for sharing your visit! I’m with Julie on the Echinacea. We have Echinacea purpurea all over our yard and the honey bees don’t go near it. The bumblebees like it, as do the butterflies.

    I like the late-blooming Allium. I will have to look for something like this in the fall and give it a try.

    • deweysanchez says:

      Yeah, it was only the Magnus variety that was getting any action in a Kew. I have also bought seeds for white swam though as the butterflies liked it and I thought it would be a nice contrast.

  4. deweysanchez says:

    Yeah, it was only the Magnus variety that was getting any action in a Kew. I have also bought seeds for white swam though as the butterflies liked it and I thought it would be a nice contrast.

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