Down time at Kew Posted on January 27, 2021

I wonder if there is a scientist at Kew doing a buggy count. Buggies, their well-wrapped passengers and their propellants, usually in gossiping pairs, sheepskin coats, long hair and boots, formed little traffic jams on the sunny Friday we were there. The citizens of Kew and Brentwood have found the perfect place to take their socially-distanced exercise.

There is not a lot of botany to distract them. Kew is immaculately cultivated these days, despite pandemic precautions. Nowhere do you see such consistently generous mulching circles round trees. To find fresh flowers in January you must head for the Davis Alpine House (sadly to find it shut). Late January is the time I go every year to see the ultimate squill, Scilla maderensis, in the glory of its deep red bulb and lavender flowers. And of course cyclamen.

There are still leaves on many of the extraordinary variety of oaks, many buds and some catkins in evidence. The buggy traffic was particularly thick in the pinetum, the greenest and most sheltering part of the garden. The depths of the towering Redwood Grove is a popular spot and the bushy cephalotaxus make good hiding places. One pine above all stands out, the Chinese Pinus bungeana, the so-called Lacebark pine, its trunk a tall silver exclamation mark among all the green.

The camellias are starting their long season, but why do I find it hard to get excited about them?. A wonderful white one with flowers like poached eggs is the brightest spot in the still gloomy Rhododendron Dell (the one rhodie in flower is a dismal muddy pink). There are Camellias whose flowers come straight off the drawing board of the creator’s top designer of roses, yet where roses seduce with softness and scent, camellias are aloof, cold and ungiving, shinily armoured against affection. Not a flower you would put in your bosom.

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