Kew Gardens - History and Facts | History Hit

Kew Gardens

Kew, England, United Kingdom

Amy Irvine

23 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens is a botanic garden in southwest London that houses the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Kew Gardens contains over 50,000 living plants and millions of preserved specimens.

History of Kew Gardens

Henry VII built Richmond Palace in 1501. It became his permanent royal residence and so early 16th century courtiers settled in nearby Kew on private estates. Around 1600, a strip of land farmed by one of the new private estates (Kew Field) would later become the gardens.

The site was acquired from the Capel family in 1731 by Frederick, Prince of Wales, and by Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales, who established a garden for exotic plants in 1759. A Chinese pagoda was built in 1761 by William Chambers, and by 1769, Kew contained more than 3,400 plant species.

Kew Gardens sprung from the merging of the Richmond and Kew royal estates in 1772, and became famous under the management of Sir Joseph Banks, with collections including specimens from around the world.

In 1840 the gardens became a national botanic garden, and Kew Gardens became a centre for scientific research and the international exchange of plant specimens. Under Kew’s director, William Hooker, the gardens were increased, and by the early 20th century the grounds were expanded to the present size of 300 acres.

Kew’s Palm House, built between 1844-1848, was the first large-scale structural use of wrought iron – now considered the world’s most important surviving Victorian glass and iron structure. The Temperate House followed later and is now the largest Victorian glasshouse in existence.

Sir David Attenborough buried a time capsule in the foundation of the Princess of Wales Conservatory in 1985, containing seeds of important food crops and several endangered species. It will be opened in 2085.

Kew Gardens today

Kew Gardens lost hundreds of trees in the Great Storm of 1987, but 5 trees still survive from the establishment of the botanical gardens in 1762. Together they are known as the ‘Five Lions’.

In July 2003, the gardens were put on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, and a revamp of the Temperate House concluded in May 2018. Kew originated the plantation industry of rubber and still plays an important role in plant introduction and as a quarantine station.

Getting to Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens is approximately 10 miles from Heathrow airport and easily accessible by road (M4, M25 and M3). It has 4 gates which can be accessed by rail, bus or river.

Kew Gardens station is 500m from Victoria Gate and is served by the District Line and London Overground. Kew Bridge station is 800m from Elizabeth Gate, via Kew Bridge. It is 30 mins from Central London.

Bus route 65 stops close to Lion Gate, Elizabeth Gate and Victoria Gate. Route 391 stops near Kew Gardens station and Elizabeth Gate, and routes 237 and 267 stop at Kew Bridge station.

Featured In


The UK is home to 33 UNESCO World Heritage sites. From Neolithic settlements in the Scottish wilderness to ruined abbeys and vast palaces, we're spoiled for choice. How many have you visited?