The line of beauty

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Since moving to Kew Gardens last year, a fair portion of my life has been spent on the rattly, elegant and idiosyncratic District line. Here is my love letter to- in my opinion – the best of all the London Underground railways.

Firstly, the District line is most definitely a railway, rather than a tube. Most of the time it’s actually above the ground, and even when it does as its name commands and goes under, it’s barely below the surface of the Earth.

The trains are tall with high ceilings. In the older trains on the network, the seats are arranged in a baffling orientation. In the centre of the carriage, a cluster of eight are positioned as if passengers were sat around a picnic bench. This leaves space for just one solitary seat before the doors. A seat that is encased in two walls of clear plastic, giving its inhabitant the overall impression of being sat in a fish tank.

The stations along the route vary from the grubby gloom of Mansion House to the graceful arches of Gloucester Road – curiously a station where no-one appears to board and no-one seems to disembark. There’s the futuristic chrome of Westminster and the sense of occasion at South Kensingston (“change here for the Museums and the Royal Albert Hall”). Generally speaking, the stations are quite beautiful, old-fashioned and filled with flowers. Cones of geraniums, little fenced off areas with ramshackle community gardens, in the spring – box after box of daffodils. The signs are hung from ornate metal beams, thick and rounded from years of repainting.

The line’s attitude to timekeeping is reminiscent of an eccentric, stubborn old aunt, arriving when it suits them, in their own time. The trains are every ten minutes at best – they keep you waiting and offer no apology. No other line could get away with a 13 minute wait with no explanation. No passenger alarm has been pulled, the rain is of the right kind, the leaves have been swept from the track. The train is not delayed. It’s just 13 minutes away. Is there a problem?

From Earl’s Court heading West, the signage simply isn’t interested in letting you know how long you will be waiting. Most of the time they tell you what train is on its way, but sometimes they don’t even bother with that. At Earl’s Court, the perplexing board of stations with its pop up arrows, is like something Alice would be confronted with in Wonderland.

Then, just after Gunnersbury, there’s the bit where the train crosses the river. Even to a regular District line commuter, the view is worth lowering one’s book for. Through one window you can see a view of the picturesque strand-on-the-green, through the other Oliver’s Island – a mysterious little wooded patch of land in the middle of the water.

And finally, did I mention that the District line has the best taste in colour? That green!

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Pantone 356

District line, I love you.

The secret wonders of Kew Gardens Tropical Nursery…

Blog, Sights

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Tucked away in a leafy corner behind a pair of Victorian wrought-iron gates lies Kew Gardens Tropical Nursery. It’s a hot, misty place, filled with intriguing and bizarre wonders of the natural world, from the world’s largest flower to the tiniest lily.

The Nursery is where Kew do research, conservation work, and look after rare plants. It’s not usually open to the public, but Gavin somehow managed to wangle us a tour. Gavin has a habit of winning tickets for things – I’m not sure whether he enters hundreds of competitions or is just really lucky. Either way, we got to go and look round and find out about all kinds of crazy plants.

Kew Gardens Tropical NurseryKew Gardens Tropical NurseryCactus in Kew GardensOpen-closy-thingOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now I am a nerd and absolutely love plants and learning new things. But I’m aware that a lesson on tropical plants isn’t the way EVERYONE in their mid-twenties would choose to spend a Saturday afternoon. (On that note, at what age must one reluctantly swap ‘mid’ for ‘late’ when talking about age? I’m 27 and I’m clinging on to my ‘mid-twenties’ label for at least another year.) Seriously though, some of the plants in this Nursery would fascinate even the grumpiest plant-hater.

Cafe Marron

Cafe marron, the Lonesome George of the plant world.

Café marron, is a flowering plant from Mauritius. A few years ago, the cafe marron’s future resembled that of Lonesome George – there was just one sad little plant left in the wild. Luckily, Kew Gardens saved it from extinction – they propagated a load, kept a stash in the nursery and send some back to Mauritius.

Kew Gardens is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s not just a pretty garden, it’s so important to conservation and science. Being there makes you realise how incredible our Earth and its inhabitants are, and  how we should do all we can to preserve and protect them.

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After our visit, we popped to see the Hive. It’s a brand new art installation that mimics a real beehive. It was designed by artist Wolfgang Buttress and has lights and music that reflect the activity in a hive located elsewhere in Kew Gardens.

The Hive is surrounded by a swaying field of wildflowers. Since the 1930s, the UK has lost NINETY SEVEN PER CENT of its wildflower meadows. This is disastrous for bees. It’s where they love to hang out and without these meadows, our poor pollinating pals are under threat. (I’ve banged on about how much I love bees and how important they are before, the post is here if you fancy a read).

After visiting the Hive we wandered around the gardens and I spent the best part of an hour scampering around in the flowerbeds trying to take a photo of a bee…

I’d really recommend a visit to the Hive, followed by a stroll through the secluded garden to spot bumbles in the bushes.

Bees in Kew GardensBees in Kew Gardens

 

Lloyds of Kew bookshop

A perfect day in Kew

Blog, Sights

Kew Gardens Palm House.jpgKew is a lovely suburb in West London famous for its acclaimed botanical gardens. It’s also home to tons of lovely independent shops and cafes, so if you’re planning a day trip to Kew Gardens, I’d definitely recommend a few stops on your way. Here’s my recipe for a perfect day in Kew.

Kew Village

Arrive at Kew Gardens station in the morning. Despite serving the London Underground, the station is above the surface of the earth and is pleasantly dissimilar to the grubby litter-strewn station you come to expect when taking the tube. The leafy, open-air platforms are lined with palm trees and flowers and there’s a cosy looking pub with a large ornate curved window that overlooks Platform 1. 

Kew Gardens station

Kew Gardens station in the sun

You’ll emerge from the station into Kew Village, a sweet little square, with independent shops ranging from a butcher and a florist to an organic wholefood store. The list of shops resembles a nursery rhyme, although the shopkeepers vehemently deny bathing together.

P.M. Flowers in Kew Village


Compiling a picnic

After a little mooch around the shops, you can begin compiling the QUEEN of all picnics. Oliver’s Organic Wholefood Store is filled with delicious salads, cheeses, chutneys, and snacks – all of which, as the name suggests, are organic.

On Saturdays there’s a little stall in the corner of the square where you can buy bread and cakes and other tasty baked things. If you fortuitously visit on the first Sunday of the month, the streets are closed for Kew Village Market – a monthly event with stalls selling seasonal and local produce.

Chutneys in Oliver’s Wholefood Store

Visit The Good Wine Shop to pick up your tipple of choice. They sell chilled wine, french cidre and locally brewed beer to suit all budgets. The friendly non-snooty staff are always happy to help, even if your request is for something “cold and cheap.”

The Good Wine Shop: Does exactly what it says on the tin


A vintage bookshop

As you leave the village, wander down the road to Lloyds of Kew bookshop along Mortlake Terrace. Looking like the library of a crumbling stately home, the independent bookshop sells rare, vintage, antiquarian and modern second hand books.

Inside, the tomes are piled high, the till balanced on a desk behind plants and freshly cut flowers. Have a coffee while rummaging for a classic paper back and then proceed to Kew Gardens.


Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens is the largest collection of living plants in the whole world and an important centre for botanical research and conservation. It’s also a stunning place to visit.

I’ve done a lot of wandering around and I think the perfect place for a picnic is the Redwood Grove on the West side of the grounds. This area, planted in the 1860s, is home to some colossal trees known as giant and coastal redwoods. They are the tallest species of tree on Earth, can grow over 100 metres high and live for thousands of years. Pretty bloody impressive! Ask for a map or directions when you get in to find this magical forest.

After a leisurely lunch, have a wander round the botanical gardens making sure you don’t miss the Japanese garden, the lake or the treetop walkway.

Kew Gardens Palm House - A Perfect Day in Kew by A Ranson Note http://nicolaranson.comBlossom in Kew Gardens

My second favourite part of Kew Gardens after the redwood grove is the Palm House. The vast Victorian structure is made of iron and glass and houses hundreds of palms. It’s like stepping into an rainforest, birds will cheep, and the nostalgic elegance of the glasshouse will make your hands twitch to take hundreds of photos.

Palm House Kew Gardens, via A Ranson Note nicolaransonPalm House, Kew Gardens via a Ranson Note http://nicolaranson.com

For more photos of Kew Gardens, visit my post about the Princess of Wales Conservatory.


An evening in Kew

On your way out of the gardens, you can stop in one of the various pubs that surround Kew Green for a cocktail or a G&T. The Coach and Horses usually have a really reasonable cocktail of the day, along with comfy chairs, a roaring fire (in the winter) and a library room.

There are lots of tasty places to eat in Kew, from the Michelin starred Glasshouse, to the French restaurant Ma Cuisine Bistro. The pubs around Kew Green also serve really great food and many have wonderful gardens for you to sit and enjoy the evening sun.

My personal favourite is a Korean BBQ restaurant called O.PPA, located along Kew Road as you head towards Richmond. Each table is fitted with a little barbecue grill which you use to cook your own food! Cue lots of hilaaaaaarious jokes from your boyfriend complaining about going to a restaurant then having to cook your own dinner. Still, I think it’s great fun and a perfect way to end a wonderful day in Kew!

 

Crocus in glass vase, Urban Jungle Bloggers

Urban Jungle Bloggers: Plants & Glass

Blog, Sights

This will be my first ever post for Urban Jungle Bloggers. Aloha!

The theme this month is ‘glass and plants’ so I thought I’d share a few photos of a little crocus bulb I planted in a glass vase back in December.

Crocus bulb in glass, Urban Jungle Bloggers

I love the long noodle-esque roots that swirl around in the water.

Curly roots, crocus in glass, Urban Jungle Bloggers

The little tiny bulb has enough nutrients to put down these long straggly jellyfish roots, and to sprout a delicate flower without needing soil which I find amazing.

Crocus in glass vase, Urban Jungle Bloggers

It’s not all good news though. This fella started well, sprouting a little shoot and a tiny root. But then nothing! The promising sprout stopped growing abruptly and started to go all brown. Lots of care and attention failed to resurrect his progress. I think perhaps there was too much water in the vase and the bulb rotted. Sorry flower!

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And finally, as this month’s theme is glass and plants I thought I’d share some photos of one of the amazing glasshouses in Kew Gardens. I live nearby so when I saw this month’s theme I popped over to take some photos.

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The Princess of Wales conservatory was opened in 1987 and is home to cacti, ferns, orchids, waterlilies and even water dragons! When you’re inside it’s like being in a giant terrarium. Wandering around, I feel like a little Minimian character.

 

This strange looking jade vine hangs down and has these strange almost-glow in the dark coloured flowers. In the wild, they are polluted by bats, but the ones in Kew are hand-pollinated by Kew Gardens staff who go round armed with little paintbrushes.

The plant only flowers every 2 – 3 years so it was great to see it! The destruction of rainforests in the Phillipines, the jade vine’s natural habitat means the vines are under threat.

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Urban Jungle Bloggers is a monthly series run by two bloggers, Igor (Happy Interior Blog) and Judith (JOELIX.com). To view more from the glass and plants theme, visit the Urban Jungle Bloggers website

How do I hate thee orchids… let me count the ways

Blog, Writes

Orchid pictureThe annual Orchid Festival at Kew Gardens is coming up over the next few weeks and as a member, I have received a tidal wave of spam about the ghastly things. I thought it was timely therefore to share some of the many reasons that I despise orchids.

To begin with, I hate the look of them. The sombre drooping leaves, the long stem, topped with a flower that looks like the face of an insect under a microscope. It looks like the worst kind of insect, the type that lays its eggs in the brain of a caterpillar.  And that’s when they’re at their best! In a botanical garden as part of a special festival, or in the shop, in the packaging, alongside a dozen identical versions. At their absolute best- they are ugly.

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Image thanks to L’eau Bleue

Most of  the time however, they don’t look like this. Most of the time, when they are in the window of a Chinese restaurant or a student flat, or the windowsill of a kitchen next to a packet of batteries, an elastic band and a dusty Tupperware lunchbox, they are starting to droop. The flowers aren’t big, with their horrible little faces beaming with colour. In fact, there is no flower. All that exists is a pot full of dirt, a curly winding root, a dark, dank leaf. The shrivelled gnarled, barren stem pointing towards the sky, empty of life.

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It’s also a matter of taste. They are so ubiquitous, but the colours and their appearance mean that they always look out of place. They often pop up next to something that clashes terribly with the deep mauve colour of the flower (which incidentally reminds me of the jarring pink/purple colour in the standard palette on early versions of Microsoft Paint). Yet, they also have the ability to add nothing of any real style or substance to a room when matched perfectly with their surroundings, they are the plant equivalent of a canvas with pebbles on it.

Then for their personality. Their demanding nature, they must have their own compost, a specific type of pot that allows the roots to get light, but they mustn’t be moved from their original pot. Not too much water, not too little. Not too much heat, not too humid but a little, not too close to the window.

They are ugly and delicate, on the brink of death at all times.

I don’t mind hard work when I feel the end product is worth it. But I don’t think they are. They are not worth the time, effort and emotion that’s required to tend to them. That’s irrelevant though – even if they were the easiest plant in the world to tend to, I’m not sure why anyone is buying them. They are hideous.

The internet is clogged with pages and pages of intricate instructions about how to care for the silly little plant. Hundreds of pleading owners, searching for the answers to why their orchid is disappointing them so.

If you type ‘why orchid’ into google, you’re faced with some of their demands:

Why is my orchid’s leaves turning yellow?
Why is my orchids’ leaves falling off?
Why won’t my orchid bloom?
Why are my orchid’s leaves curling?
Why do orchid’s lose their flowers?
Why is my orchid dying?

They are the flower-equivalent of my least favourite type of person. The person that comes to an event, yet says nothing. Asks no questions, answers with yes/no answers. Has allergies and dietary requirements aplenty but when presented with a vegan, gluten free meal that has been specially made, doesn’t even show any gratitude.  They contribute nothing, but demand unlimited energy and attention from the host.

They are the troublesome, ungrateful, sullen teenager, with parents that beg it to go to school, to revise for exams. That has had hours of expensive private tuition that the other children (i.e. other plants – please keep up) would kill for. They demand unlimited attention, but in return provide no joy.