In February, there’s no escaping the fact that London is very much in the throes of winter. The trees of Hyde Park stand bare, traditional pubs stoke their fireplaces, and only the heftiest coat will keep you warm. While there’s nothing like a warming stroll among crisp gardens, we wouldn’t blame you if your thoughts turn to hotter climes—Thailand, perhaps? Head southwest to Kew this month and you’ll find the best of both worlds.
Returning for its 23rd year, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew unveils its Orchids Festival (to 11 Mar, 2018), dedicated to Thailand. The country has been picked because it boasts a staggering 1,100 species of orchids ("gluay mhai," in Thai), which can be found everywhere from its tropical southern islands to the high-altitude realms of the north.
Orchids across the world are becoming extinct faster than they can be classified and protected. They also remain one of the most widely traded plants in the world. In 2015, 42 per cent of the plants seized at Heathrow Airport were wild orchids. So this festival is a great way to raise awareness.
Taking place inside Kew’s Princess of Wales Conservatory, the first thing you’ll see as the greenhouse’s humidity envelopes you is a tunnel covered with Vanda orchids. This particularly extravagant variety of the flower has a deeply vibrant colouring and a fragrant scent. Amid a display of handmade Thai umbrellas and hanging bouquets, visitors then discover an ‘orchid palace’, inspired by Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, a retreat for Thai royalty near Bangkok.
The Orchids Festival has steadily become a highlight of Kew Gardens’ calendar, with the festival celebrating not just the flowers, but also their wider culture. Orchid Lates includes the chance to watch traditional Thai dance, take cookery and cocktail classes, and listen to orchid experts.
As well as Thailand’s finest orchids, the Princess of Wales Conservatory houses plants from 10 different climate zones. Highlights include the Titan Arum, one of the world’s largest flowering structures, which emits an unappealing odour—similar to rotting meat to attract flies.
More London Gardens to Enjoy
Eltham Palace & Gardens
Following a quiet January, southeast London’s majestic palace and 19-acre garden is back to full opening hours. The Discoveries and Inventions workshops (12-16 Feb, 2018) will keep young minds busy, while parents can admire herbaceous borders designed by award-winning Isabelle Van Groeningen.
Chelsea Physic Garden
London’s oldest botanic garden celebrates the new season with Heralding Spring, a series of events which includes talks and tours by the head gardener. Nestled in a walled-off sanctuary next to the River Thames, the garden is home to around 5,000 species of plants.