Kew Gardens’ iconic Palm House is getting a massive revamp

London has lovely green spaces dotted all over the city, but Kew Gardens has gotta be the most magnificent of the bunch. Home to glass houses, sculptures and plants native to all parts of the world, it’s a botanical wonderland in the depths of west London. 

A tonne of scientific research takes place at Kew, and it boasts the single largest and most diverse botanical collection in the world – about 40,000 plants live there, after all. 

In order to keep all that scientific research going, parts of Kew are getting a major refurb. Back in 2021, Kew published its 10-year corporate strategy, which involved a target of making the whole place climate positive by 2030. As part of those plans, the Grade I listed Palm House and the Grade II listed Waterlily House are both up for restoration works. 

Both buildings were completed in the 1850s. The Waterlily House is a much smaller structure, designed to house the – you guessed it – Amazon waterlily. The Palm House has actually already undergone two renovations in its life, between 1955-57 and 1984-88, and is home to endless tropical plants, some of which are even extinct in the wild. 

The restoration plans involve repairing and decarbonising both buildings, as well as improving accessibility, staff facilities, and health and safety measures. Building service systems will be replaced with a net-zero carbon resolution for heating, cooling and ventilation, all while the Victorian design is conserved and protected. 

According to Atlas Obscura, the Palm House’s current boilers emit about the same amount of carbon per year as 150 people – that’s between 600-700 tonnes – and hopefully that will be significantly reduced by these works. 

So, how will this all be done? Well, architecture company Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) has plans to build two modern glass houses, where the collections will temporarily be moved to. One will be taken down once the works are over, and the other will provide some permanent extra nursery space. 

Not all the plants inside will be moved, and the Palm House has one particularly stubborn resident. It’s where a 249 year-old Eastern Cape giant cycad, a prehistoric palm tree native to South Africa, calls home. The tree is the height of a double decker bus and leans clumsily to the side by almost five metres, and with a ‘root ball’ (the main mass of roots) of 1.5 by 1.5 metres, it’s the world’s largest potted plant. No chance of moving it, then.

We don’t yet have a date for when the revamp will be complete, so watch this space for more updates on the restoration happening at Kew.

Restoration in London

The capital is always being improved and modernised and the new gardens at the Tate Britain, the facelift being given to this 1950s office block, and the refurb of Waterloo station are just the latest examples. Keep an eye on Time Out’s news page for all the latest updates on London’s biggest upgrades.

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