The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew—also known as Kew Gardens—began in the 1720s as Richmond Lodge, the summer home for George and Caroline, the Prince and Princess of Wales. They greatly expanded the grounds, creating paths, fields, and garden buildings designed by William Kent (1685–1748). In the 1730s, Augusta, the Princess of Wales, and her first husband, Frederick, the Prince of Wales, continued the expansion and enlargement. In 1757, architect William Chambers (1723–1796) was commissioned to re-landscape the grounds, leading to the impressive and unique array of architecture that remains today: the Pagoda, Turkish mosque, Ruined Arch, Alhambra, Gothic cathedral, and Orangery, to name a few. Chambers had visited China, and its architecture influenced his designs at Kew. Meanwhile, William Aiton (1731–1793), a Scottish gardener, greatly expanded the gardens, which opened in 1759. In Aiton’s 1789 publication Hortus Kewensis, he listed 5,600 plants in cultivation. When Princess Augusta died in 1772, King George III inherited Kew Gardens and appointed Joseph Banks (1743–1820) horticultural adviser and director of Kew.

Under George III and Banks, both of whom were advocates of botanical and colonial exploration, about 7,000 new plant species were introduced into Britain. In Banks’s own words, he wanted to turn Kew “into a great botanical exchange house for the empire.” Banks skillfully persuaded captains and naturalists to transport plants and seeds from foreign locales back to England. In 1772, he sent gardener Francis Masson to South Africa on behalf of Kew. He exhorted his collectors to record local and medicinal uses of plants and information about their natural habitats, concentrating on ones that could grow in England. Through Banks, Kew also formed links with India and the West Indies. When Banks died in 1820, he was replaced at Kew by William Hooker, who also played an important role in the development of its reputation as an international horticultural center.


Desmond, Ray. The History of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. 2nd ed. London: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 2007.

Hepper, F. N., ed. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Gardens for Science and Pleasure. London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1982.

Jennings, Anne. Georgian Gardens. London: English Heritage, 2005.

 
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