Kew’s iconic Temperate House re-opens this weekend

After a five-year restoration project, the greatest glasshouse in the world will once again open its door to the public on May 5.

After a complex £41 million restoration, the glittering jewel in Kew’s crown, Temperate House, will emerge, on May 5, from enough scaffolding to stretch the length of the M25.

The Grade I-listed building was designed in 1859 by Decimus Burton, whose other illustrious London works include Hyde Park Corner, Wellington Arch, the Athenaeum Club and terraces overlooking Regent’s Park. Funded with some £15 million from the National Lottery, plus other donors, vital work to the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse, twice the size of Kew’s Palm House, has kept it closed to the public for the past five years.

As well as repair or replacement for some 69,000 items within the building, not including the 15,000 new panes of glass and a repaint that required 5,280 litres of the stuff, there is a series of new water features and Temperate House has been thoroughly modernised, to be reinstated as a sanctuary for the most exotic, rare and threatened plants from temperate regions across the globe, including the Mediterranean, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South and Central America and Asia.

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During the works, some 500 plants were temporarily re-housed and, since September 2017, Kew’s leading horticulturalists have been propagating many of the 10,000 new plants now in situ. The extraordinary species include Dombeya mauritiana, almost extinct in the wild until Carlos Magdalena, Kew’s ‘plant messiah’, found one growing in the Mauritian highlands – Kew is now the only place in the world with this tree in cultivation.

‘The Temperate House will be for everyone,’ explains Richard Barley, director of horticulture at RBG Kew. ‘From young to old, for budding gardeners or aspiring artists, for those making a pilgrimage from great distances, and for our local community, we hope every visitor will see plants in a new light. And what a light it will be – when our first visitors swing open the doors, they will find these plants encased in a glistening cathedral, the new glass allowing the sun to stream in, the ironwork restored to its glossy best.’

Celebratory summer events include Cirque Bijou, an aerial performance to live music inspired by the Temperate House’s magnificent structure, and interactive plant tours for families with Gnomus, a larger-than-life puppet.