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Fabulous buildings housing millions of species in the gardens and hundreds of thousands of books in the library

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The official title of this place in south London is the "Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew", but it's more commonly known as just "Kew Gardens". The same organisation runs other sites in Sussex and Kent, and all together the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew are responsible for the largest collection of living plants in the entire world.
The gardens at Kew are huge, full to the very brim with wonderful sights. 40 of the buildings and structures have a Grade I or II listed status, and the Kew area as a whole is a World Heritage site. There are millions of species in the gardens, and hundreds of thousands of books in the library. The organisation also co-ordinates the Millennium Seed Bank Project, which aims to collect examples of seeds from every single species of plant in the world. These are stored in huge underground freezers, as a safeguard against extinction. In autumn 2009, the project reached a significant milestone: it banked 10% of all the world's plant species. This includes over a million seeds.
The organisation has been deeply involved with conservation projects like this since its inception. However, when people visit, they mostly come for the incredible displays of plants and flowers that are stuffed inside the 300 acre site. Kew Gardens are a celebration of the beauty and variety of plants from around the globe.
One of the earliest parts of the garden to be set up was the 10-storey pagoda, which was modelled on a Chinese design. It's usually recognised as the gardens' main landmark, and at around 50 metres high, it's visible from most areas. During World War II a hole was cut in each floor. This was so they could drop bombs straight from the top floor to the bottom, to test the way they fell.
The oriental theme is continued with a Japanese garden area. There's a replica of the beautiful gateway from a Kyoto temple, which is regarded as the best Japanese-style building on the continent. There's also a real farmhouse from around 1900, which was imported and reconstructed here in 2001. The building uses a system of interlocking joints that requires no nails.
Nearby is the Temperate House, which is the biggest Victorian glasshouse still left in the world. It provides a home for heat-loving plants from such far-flung places as Africa and Australia. The building also acts as a haven for several highly endangered species. There's another Victorian construction in the gardens too, called Palm House. It's not as big as the Temperate House, but its wrought iron curves are just as eye-catching. The interior is like a sauna, filled with exotic palm trees.
Kew Gardens isn't just made up of old greenhouses though. One of the much more modern buildings is the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which is constructed from an array of glass triangle shapes. It was named after Augusta, the Princess of Wales who founded the gardens, and opened by another, Princess Diana. Inside, things get quite complicated. It's divided into ten different areas, each with strictly controlled climates.
These buildings are Kew Gardens' biggest sights, but there are more things to see here than it's ever possible to describe. Everywhere you turn there's something new, from an art gallery, to the world's biggest compost heap! If you're having trouble choosing where to go, then you might be best off taking a bird's eye view. You can check out everything the gardens have to offer by climbing up to the brand new treetop walkway, which stands 18 metres above the ground. From here, you can see the gardens, the greenhouses, and across the roofs of London, beyond.
Visitor Information
Kew Gardens is open daily, 9.30am to 6pm (earlier in winter). Entry costs around £15 for adults, children FREE. Royal Botanic Gardens, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB. Tel: 020 8332 5655

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