Having been to the Science Festival at Wakehurst we were excited about what this family friendly Science extravaganza was going to bring to Kew Gardens.
Kew is amazing for families, and the summer makes it that much more magical. The newly opened Children’s Garden is a brilliant play space which the toddler adores and never gets tired of exploring, the large green open spaces are ideal for all day picnics and you are surrounded by beautiful nature, flowers, ancient trees and delightful sculptures, art installations and more. And this is just on a normal day at Kew. The Science Festival brought loads more on offer for budding scientists of all ages.
The theme for this year’s festival was ‘rare and threatened’ and we learnt all about the valuable work that the scientists at Kew are doing to analyze, conserve and help preserve various plant and fungal species.
Speaking of fun, we met Fiona the Fungi as soon as we entered the gardens and had a bit of a sing song as we broadcasted through the Wood Wide Web. Fiona is a large scale, very interactive installation which demonstrates the complex and highly extensive network of connections and communications underneath the soil. We shouted words, phrases and some out of tune chanting and were fascinated with the lights (the more sound the brighter they shine). In fact the toddler woke up the next day saying ‘big mushroom mummy’ so Fiona the fungi certainly had a lasting impression on him.
Our attention was then drawn to the Hive. This massive art installation (17 Metres tall) is, according to Kew, the most photographed part of the gardens. It replicates life inside a beehive (including the musical tones with which bees communicate). Surrounded by beautiful wild flowers we learnt about different bees and their vital role in sustaining life as we know it, how they make honey (did you know even the bumble bee makes a small amount of honey?!) we got to hold and smell propolis, see and touch pollen and play with a replica bee and learn all about their different body parts and their functions.
Down in the body of the hive we became Honey Detectives and did some blind honey tasting (the toddler’s taste buds were particularly delighted at this task and he was asking for ‘moore honey!’). Definitely the best chemistry lesson this little Londoner has had.
Next we were distracted by the giant bee roaming around the storytelling tent, so off we went to try the waggle dance, listen to bee stories and understand why they like flowers so much. There was also a puppet making station but the young Londoner was distracted by Fiona the fungi (to whom we returned several times throughout our visit).
At this point in the day famished and a little tired from all the excitement and activities, it was time for a respite break so we had a picnic outside the Science Cafe. As if perfectly timed, the Science Cafe was doing cooking demonstrations and for our desert we tasted the South African porridge, one that I will be cooking for our toddler as he loved it.
After eating some strawberries and noticing the seeds on the outside of the fruit, we went to find out more about all sorts of different seeds. Just like humans, plants adapt and evolve in order to survive, they are clever little things. And one of the ingenious ways they use to spread their seeds is by hitching rides on animals. Our little scientist delighted in the seed hitching activities provided (although his seeds didn’t catch many animals he was still entranced for a number of minutes) and when we were done here we moved on to the Seed Cannon; we created our own helicopter out of some paper and a paperclip and then launched them (again, and again and again) out of the cannon.
Next up we are in the Extinction Risk Zone and we are working with the Scientists at Kew to race against time and collect the world’s seeds in all their marvellous diversity. Ready, steady, go! The toddler loved dressing up in his hi-vis jacket and helmet and obligingly collected the seeds from the blanched trees. But we had to be careful not to over pick as already one in five plant species are threatened with extinction (something which worried the adults in the group).
Spotting a large dice in the distance, we toddled over to the Spades and Loggers where we experienced some of the survival challenges of the plant kingdom (new towns, wildfires and diseases; to name a few) through the snakes and ladders giant board game.
By this point in the day the adults were ready for a G&T and whilst savouring one we ambled over to Just the tonic pop-up to learn all about Quinine (the ingredient in the T of this favourite British cocktail) which also helps treat malaria. Pretty amazing bitter plant which has made us appreciate our drink that much more!
We then ventured into the Princess of Wales Conservatory where we observed all sorts of magical plants (including this writer’s favourite carnivorous ones!). We marvelled at the freshwater fish and colourful frogs and delighted in our beautiful surroundings. We also had managed to convince a butterfly to join in on the tour (and this kept the toddler very much entertained.)
And of course no visit to Kew is complete without a visit to the Children’s Garden – so we ended the day with a play in the four different areas celebrating nature. Educated, entertained and exhausted after such a brilliant day we packed ourselves into the car and ventured home.
Kew Gardens is open throughout the year and as well as the brilliant Children’s Garden, there is lots to do and see. Tickets for the Kew Gardens starts at £4.50 for children and £16.50 for adults. Book online here. There is also Theatre at Kew where you can watch Alice in Wonderland outdoors.