A couple of weeks ago, Ben and I decided to get into the Christmas spirit in true British style – spending a cold and rainy night wandering around a garden in the dark! But this was no ordinary garden. Oh no, we were in one of the best gardens in London: the one and only Kew Gardens. It’s within a stone’s throw of Ben’s place, so we popped over after work one evening. We wrapped up warm against the chill and drizzle, but once we entered we pretty much forgot the weather.
For those of you who have never been, Kew Gardens is a pretty special place at any time of year. It’s a little oasis of calm and natural beauty only a tube ride from central London, which helps you forget you’re anywhere near a city, let alone the capital city! But by night and with a myriad of rainbow lights, it transforms into somewhere truly magical. Festivities began at the entrance gate, which was decked out under a canopy of blue lights.
The Glasshouse was changing colour back and forth throughout the evening…
…And the house across the lake had snowflakes projected onto it, while the fountains danced in time to music, which reminded me so much of the dancing fountains at the Bellagio in Vegas! (with a bit less glamour and much less warmth!)
And a lady on stilts in a similar robe and flowery headdress waited to greet us. She announced herself to be the Oak Queen, at the court of the Holly King (nice little horticultural and seasonal references!)
I had never heard of The Marshmallowists, but believe me when I say they don’t do normal marshmallows. Their produce are made up of sugar, fresh fruit puree, gelatin, essential oils, cornflour, icing sugar, and in the case of the decadent raspberry and champagne variety, a trace of alcohol.
We trialled raspberry and champagne, coconut, blackcurrant and mint and mango and sweet orange.
My personal favourite was the coconut, although all were delicious! They were just as nice on their own as they were roasted over the mini fires scattered round the stage. Ben and I hid out round the corner, as the Oak Queen was picking on passers by for a bit of audience participation, and we were soon joined by a group of ladies doing the exact same thing!
But as the sign at the entrance says, what happens under the mistletoe, stays under the mistletoe!
There wasn’t really much of a theme to the trail other than an excuse to illuminate the garden in an array of pretty lights. We certainly weren’t complaining! Here are some of the other highlights (all photo credit to Ben, my amateur photography efforts haven’t barely extended to capturing anything beyond a blur in the dark!)
I loved the chandeliers in the trees – it was like Deep American South Gothic glam – think Beautiful Creatures or an 80s rock video.
Finally we reached the Rose Walk at the back of the Glasshouse, and admire the massive cage ball of fire on the lawn (I loved that the individual fires were set into plant pots!). There was also a fiery version of the fountains, shooting up into the sky in time to music.
The whole focus on the lights, fiery and man-made, made me think back to the initial origins of Christmas-time festivals. Before Christmas became an established tradition, when Christianity was still in its infancy, the Romans held a winter festival called Saturnalia. It was basically an excuse to eat, drink and be merry, and there was a fair amount of chaos and lawlessness involved too! In the early centuries AD it was a festival to celebrate light during the dark winter months, and to hope for a return of the sun and summer. The Celts also marked the Winter Solstice as the the return of the sun after the shortest day of the year (that’s 21st December, fact fans!)
You should definitely go and visit this magical wonderland. Children will love it, adults will love it, and it’s more a celebration of winter than something denominational or overly-religious, so it should appeal to all. Take yourself over there for an evening out with a difference, and remind yourself of the beauty of nature in winter. (Though with a little added sparkle!)
You can buy tickets for Christmas at Kew here, but hurry, as it’s only on until 3rd January!