Woodland wonders

Last weekend Kew Gardens held its sixth annual Woodland Wonders Festival, and fortunately we chose the best day weather-wise to visit.

Queen Charlotte's Cottage surrounded by bluebells

Bluebells behind Queen Charlotte’s Cottage

This festival is the one event in the year when Kew opens Queen Charlotte’s Cottage to the public, and so we toured the interior of this former royal garden shed along with thousands of others. It turns out that the building is deceptively narrow; really just wide enough for one room plus connecting hallway. It contains two spacious, opposing staircases (very impractical; not even the royals need two ways to go up and down in such a small space), and upstairs the wallpaper of the largest room was designed by one of the Victorian princesses. Apart from a collection of 18th century framed prints (reproductions) which decorate some of the rooms, the cottage is largely unfurnished. All in all it was pretty underwhelming.

Morris dancing at Kew

Morris dancing at Kew – what’s with those handkerchiefs?

On the other hand the rest of the festival was impressive. Many skilled, woodsy folk had set up tents in which they displayed ecologically-friendly activites: bee-keeping, wood carving, archery, etc. A troop of kooky Morris dancers put on several shows, and swings for children were hung from some of Kew’s enormous trees, while free samples of Kew Brew (a premium ale brewed with hops grown at Kew) were handed out to their parents.


Some azaleas were in full bloom

The plants and flowers were brilliant as usual. Not only were the bluebells all out, but a few of the azaleas and rhododendrons were also in full bloom (many will need another week I think). By far the most spectacular display, however, was put on by the lilacs, most of which were clearly at their fragrant peak; and in the process of admiring them I discovered a strong Canadian connection.


The lilacs were at their peak

British-born Isabella Preston (1881 – 1964) immigrated to Canada at the age of 31 and became one of the world’s foremost lilac hybridists. Working in Guelph, Ontario, she developed lilacs ideally suited to northern climes – late flowering shrubs with prolific blooms. Kew now has several specimens of these eponymous Syringa xprestoniae.

All in all, it was an excellent day out.