The Kew Royal Botanic Gardens are public gardens located in the Richmond-Kew district of greater London. They are extensive, encompassing approximately 300 acres (121 hectares) and featuring 40,000 different species of plants. The site of formal gardens since the 18th century, the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens attract thousands of visitors every year from around the world. In addition to the many exotic displays, the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens are home to one of the foremost institutes of scientific research in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Known commonly as Kew Gardens, the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens include the site of the first formal garden built in 1759 by the Lord of Tewkesbury. The Chinese Pagoda, which was built in 1761, still stands on its original site, and the Dutch house, built at an earlier date, is known today as Kew Palace, but few of the original 18th century structures remain. As the property was expanded and modified in the 19th century, many of the original buildings were demolished to make way for new construction under the direction of King George III, who also extended the gardens.
The largest collection of plants in the world is maintained at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens. Many of these specimens are housed in huge greenhouses. One of these is the Palm House, which was constructed in the middle of the 19th century. Designed to maintain a warm and humid climate to house many exotic varieties of palms, Palm House was constructed of iron and glass, and was heated by boilers in the basement. Another large greenhouse at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens is the Temperate House, the largest remaining Victorian-style glass house in the world.
Kew Royal Botanic Gardens also maintain an enormous seed bank called Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. The gardens are also the site of one of the largest herbariums in the world. In 1987, an enormous new building was constructed to house a variety of plants. The Princess of Wales Conservatory, named in honor of Princess Diana, was designed to accommodate plants from a minimum of 10 different climate zones.
In 2003, the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This recognition is given to sites around the world that UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has determined to have either natural or cultural elements worthy of being preserved for posterity. Other sites that have received this designation include Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the cathedral of Notre Dame, the Great Wall of China, the Acropolis, and Yellowstone National Park.