FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Autumn wanders at Wakehurst

Posted in England by folkestonejack on October 22, 2016

The promise of a fine day tempted us out to sample the autumnal delights of Wakehurst Place, the country estate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The trip required a little planning as buses to the site only run every two hours on saturdays but the reward was a relaxing wander in the grounds with a pleasing mix of beautifully illuminated reds and golds that made this photographer very happy!

The mansion at Wakehurst Place

The mansion at Wakehurst Place

The extensive grounds are a pleasure to explore and we have Gerald Loder, later the first Lord Wakehurst, to thank for that. In 1903 he purchased the long-established estate and set about creating the gardens that we see today. The next owner of the estate, Henry Price, continued his work and bequeathed Wakehurst Place to the nation in 1963. Today, it is owned by the National Trust but managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew.

It is not hard to see why Wakehurst Place holds great appeal as a wedding venue, but the benefit of visiting on one of its quieter saturdays was the opportunity to peek inside the mansion for a moment or two (the Elizabethan mansion is not a significant focus of the visitor experience here, but it’s still nice to get a feel for the house at the heart of the estate) and to enjoy the view across the lawn.

Our walks took us from the lawn to Iris Dell and the Himalayan Glade. Although the dell was long past its best the autumn colours around the water were still tempting plenty of photographers to linger for the perfect shot. It must look stunning in July with over 60 varieties of Japanese water iris in bloom. After a spot of lunch in The Stables restaurant we enjoyed stretching our legs among the impressive tree roots on the rock walk.

The trees in full autumnal splendour proved a big draw for everyone, but especially photographers. It was almost as much fun watching photographers pointing their lenses upwards to catch the perfect interplay of light and red foliage as it was to take pictures myself. Nevertheless, the hundreds of photographs I took are ample proof that I was not immune from the photographic lure of a red tree or two…

Inner Compulsion by Peter Randall-Page in front of one of the buildings at the Millennium Seed Bank

Inner Compulsion by Peter Randall-Page in front of one of the buildings at the Millennium Seed Bank

At the opposite end of the timeline to the Elizabethan mansion is the barrel-vaulted complex of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank which has been home to the world’s largest plant conservation programme since it opened in 2000. This ‘living library’ is working towards the impressive target of conserving 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020, with the first priority being the most endangered or economically important species. The importance of this was brought home in the story of some of the rare UK species that had been rescued by this programme when they would otherwise have faced likely extinction.

The Millennium Seed Bank is a fascinating project explained in just the right amount of detail through a series of panels around the central exhibition space, explaining the process of extracting moisture to ensure that seeds are stored in the most perfect conditions and the science of determining how long the seeds will last. I thought it was inspired to offer a glimpse of the scientists at work in the open plan offices adjacent to the exhibition, carrying out the very processes we had just read about.

A count in August 2015 revealed that the vaults of the seed bank contained 2,115,847,290 seeds from 36,333 plant species at the time. The number is incredibly impressive but sadly dwarfed by the 60,000 and 100,000 species currently at risk (around a quarter of the world’s plant species).

I have to admit that I had no idea of this vital work before I visited but having discovered the project I would say that it is impossible to visit Wakehurst and not be inspired.

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